Grade (out of 10): 7
For the most part, quarterback Kirk Cousins smoothly executed a quick passing game plan that didn't try many deep shots against the Saints' third-ranked defense. Cousins still called the plan "aggressive," and it was in the sense that he dropped back 43 times compared to 15 handoffs for Dalvin Cook. Cousins' three touchdown passes gave him a career-high 32 for the season. His 291 passing yards were buoyed by runs after the catch from receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. His longest completion through the air was a 19-yard deep over route to Thielen off play action, as coordinator Gary Kubiak seemingly did not try to test his pass protection very often. The line held up better in front of Cousins, who only took two sacks among nine hits, his fewest since Week 12 against Carolina.
Positive: Risk aversion
Cousins was at his best at the end of the third quarter, moving the chains with his arm twice on passes to tight end Irv Smith Jr. and Thielen before finding Smith for a second wide-open touchdown off play action near the goal line. Cousins continued to deliver throws while impressive poise while under pressure, taking an illegal low hit that could draw an NFL fine. For the first time since Nov. 8 against Detroit, the Vikings offense didn't commit a turnover, aided by Cousins' risk aversion as he continued to throw passes away before testing contested windows. But Cousins needed left tackle Riley Reiff to recover a fumble, this one caused by Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan, for the second straight week.
Negative: Two-minute troubles
The Vikings' hurry-up offense before halftime has been lacking. Since running back Ameer Abdullah's catch and run for a touchdown against Detroit last month, the offense has produced just six points in seven possessions within the two-minute warning (and with at least 30 seconds). They've managed just two Dan Bailey field goals, while running out the clock twice (including on Friday), punting twice and fumbling away the other drives. They came up empty Friday while wasting 16 seconds before calling a timeout, which coach Mike Zimmer pinned on a headset malfunction preventing the play call.
For how often the Vikings typically cough up the ball, they better capitalize when the defense takes it away. But they haven't, scoring just 38 points off turnovers and ranking near the bottom of the league. Cornerback Harrison Hand's interception came at a pivotal point in the game, with the Vikings trailing 17-14 in the second quarter, but a three-and-out possession followed. They later turned linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr.'s second-half interception into a Smith touchdown.
"You can point to that as a disappointment and an area where we've fallen short." — Cousins on the Vikings not scoring off takeaways.