3 Takeaways from Vikings' Week 12 Loss
The Minnesota Vikings have had an up-and-down season. And nothing proved that more than Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Entering the matchup on a two-game winning streak—tied for their longest of the season—the Vikings lost 34-26 to the 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Minnesota fell to 5-6, but it remains in the thick of the NFC wild-card race heading into the final six weeks of the regular season.
The Vikings and 49ers were tied at 14 at halftime, but San Francisco used a 20-point third quarter to take an eight-point lead into the fourth, and neither team scored in the final quarter.
Here are three takeaways from the Vikings' Week 12 loss.
Rare Off Day from Cousins Proved Costly
Kirk Cousins has quietly been having one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the NFL. Entering Sunday, he had thrown only two interceptions this year while putting up consistently strong numbers through the air. But he had a relatively subpar showing in San Francisco.
Cousins passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a costly interception. He was picked off by Azeez Al-Shaair early in the third quarter, and the 49ers capitalized on the next play, taking a 28-14 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by Elijah Mitchell.
Although Minnesota trailed by only eight points in the fourth, Cousins couldn't lead a go-ahead drive, as each of the Vikings' two possessions in the final quarter resulted in them turning over the ball on downs. The first of those drives ended at the 49ers' 3-yard line and featured a play in which Cousins mistakenly lined up under right guard after making pre-snap adjustments.
"It's very frustrating anytime we're that close and don't get anything," Minnesota wide receiver Justin Jefferson said, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press. "We feel like we have the playmakers to get in the end zone, and we feel like we have a good enough offense to drive the ball in and score. So we're frustrated every time we get down there and don't get in."
Considering how well Cousins has played this season, it's likely that the Vikings offense will bounce back from the tough finish to this game. But his mistakes proved costly Sunday.
Nwangwu Continues to Impress on Special Teams
During his rookie season, Kene Nwangwu is showing the type of impact that he can have for the Vikings on special teams. And on Sunday, he made a big-time play that kept Minnesota in the game in the second half.
Nwangwu returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown with a little under five minutes to go in the third quarter. Although Minnesota was unsuccessful on its consequent two-point conversion attempt, the rookie's highlight-reel play cut San Francisco's lead to 31-26.
It was Nwangwu's second kickoff return TD of the season, as he also had a 98-yard score in the Vikings' Week 9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He's the only player in the NFL with two kick-return touchdowns this year, and there are only four other players who have one.
Not only that, but Nwangwu joined Percy Harvin (2009) and Cordarrelle Patterson (2013) as the only Minnesota rookies to have multiple kickoff-return touchdowns in a season, per Eric Smith of the team's official site.
At some point, opposing teams may opt to kick away from Nwangwu, who is proving to be a dangerous returner. But until that happens, he could continue to come through with big plays in this way for the Vikings.
Injuries Could Have a Big Impact Down the Stretch
The Vikings' biggest loss Sunday may not have been the defeat they were handed by the 49ers. That's because Minnesota was hit by numerous noteworthy injuries, including one to star running back Dalvin Cook.
Cook, who missed some time earlier this season because of an ankle injury, was carted off during the third quarter with a shoulder ailment that he suffered on a play in which he also fumbled the ball. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told reporters after the game that Cook will undergo an MRI on Monday, while NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the running back suffered a shoulder dislocation.
If Cook misses time, Minnesota can turn to backup Alexander Mattison, who has fared well when he's been called upon to fill in as the starter. Still, Cook is one of the best running backs in the NFL, so the Vikings could be without a key playmaker for their most important games of the season.
Linebacker Anthony Barr (hamstring) and left tackle Christian Darrisaw (undisclosed) also left the game with injuries. Both are key players Minnesota would struggle to replace if they are out for any period of time.
Four of the Vikings' final six games are against teams that are .500 or worse, so they are in a good position to make a late surge into the postseason. But their health could dictate whether that happens.