An emotional Dan Campbell dedicated the Detroit Lions' first win of the season to the victims of last month's mass shooting in nearby Oxford, Michigan.

A last-second touchdown throw from Jared Goff to rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown saw the Lions finally end their wait for a victory in 2021 as they stunned the Minnesota Vikings 29-27. 

Though the Lions celebrated wildly in the immediate aftermath, Campbell struck a more sombre tone in the post-game media conference as he held up the game ball and said: "This goes to the whole Oxford community, all those who were affected."

Campbell proceeded to list the names of the victims of the November 30 shooting at Oxford High School, which claimed the lives of four students. A further six students and a teacher were wounded, adding that all those affected are "in our hearts and prayers".

Asked about his message to the team, Campbell replied: "I just wanted them to know exactly what we were going to represent today.

"The shirts, the hats, the decals, the people that are affected. Some of our players know of someone that was affected. To me, my thought was, 'Hey, man, if we can, for three hours, just ease their suffering a little bit, that's worth it.'

"So, that's kinda how I thought of this and we did a great job, players responded and played well."

Quarterback Goff said: "You never hope for a tragedy like this, but you hope to be a light for those people and a positive thing that they can have fun watching. 

"I hope they were all watching today and were able to enjoy that win and we can take their minds off it for whatever it may be, three hours.

"I think any time that we can do that, it's a lot bigger than our sport, it's a lot bigger than us and I think today was one of those special circumstances that we were able to rise to the occasion and make something special happen."

Patrick Mahomes called for improvements and said the Kansas City Chiefs "expect greatness from each other" despite a record-setting victory over the Denver Broncos.

The Chiefs cruised past the Broncos 22-9 to collect a franchise record 12th straight victory over Denver, a streak dating back to Week 10 of 2015.

Kansas City also extended their winning run to five games on Sunday, despite quarterback Mahomes being far from his best.

The 26-year-old may have rushed for a touchdown on four carries, but he did not throw for a touchdown and was intercepted once on 15-of-29 passing for 184 yards.

Mahomes - who has already thrown 12 picks this season, as many as in his career-high 2018 campaign – was satisfied after yet another Chiefs win but called for improvements across the field.

"I think they know, from me and from all of us, and it's the same towards me as well, it's that they just have to be themselves," Mahomes told reporters. 

"There's nothing they have to do extra. They have the talent, they have the playmaking ability to just continue to go out there and be themselves. I think we'll continue to get better and better. 

"We're still winning football games. We don't want to get lost in that - we're winning a lot of football games, and we're winning by pretty big margins. 

"But we expect greatness from each other. We want to continue to get better as an offense and the defense to continue to get better and hopefully create a great football team."

Mahomes has only thrown for more than 300 yards once in his past six games, while Kansas City have registered over 22 points just once at home this season against the Cleveland Browns.

In their previous five games, the Chiefs have allowed 17, seven, 14, nine and nine points, having given up 29, 36, 30, 30 and 38 in the team's opening five games. 

They are the first franchise in NFL history to have a five-game winning run conceding 25-plus points and a five-game victorious streak allowing less than 20 points in the same season, per Stats Perform.

But 2018 MVP Mahomes insisted all the Chiefs are working on different ways to tighten up plays at both ends, despite Kansas City having an 8-4 record to top AFC West.

"You figure that when you get to, hopefully, the playoffs and kind of try to make a run that guys are going to try to take away those two guys," he added. 

"We'll do our best job of still trying to get them open, scheming them open in different ways. 

"But other guys are going to have to step up, and this week it was running backs out of the backfield. Next week, it might be other receivers, it might be different tight ends. I think we have the guys to do it, we just have to continue to go out there and do it."

Lamar Jackson blamed himself for not executing the pass for a two-point conversion that would have seen the Baltimore Ravens edge past the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Baltimore attempted the two-point conversion after Jackson had led the Ravens to a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining, only for the 24-year-old's throw to narrowly miss Mark Andrews' fingertips in the endzone.

The Steelers therefore squeezed to a 20-19 victory, snapping a two-game losing streak after being inspired by Ben Roethlisberger, who threw two fourth-down touchdowns on Sunday.

But 2019 MVP Jackson, whose 60-yard drive during the closing two minutes set up a tantalising conclusion, bemoaned his lack of cutting edge as Baltimore opted for the winner-takes-all two-pointer as opposed to kicking for a point.

"I was in the moment," Jackson told reporters. "We just scored. I was cool with it. I wanted to win. I didn't want to go to overtime anyway.

"T.J. Watt's got range. He's a long guy. I had to throw around him and try to make something happen. That's all, I just came up short.

"We're just not finishing. We're always one play away. When we get down in the red zone, we've just got to fix that. We've just got to get in the lab and find ways to keep our drives going, try not to have sacks.

"I'm very confident. You saw the last drive. We were rolling, hitting passes, guys running their routes, catching the ball and getting YAC. We just do that consistently, we'll be fine. We just have to do it early and finish the whole game like that."

Jackson continues to be Baltimore's main outlet, once again making eight carries for 55 yards as the Ravens' lead rusher.

But the quarterback's passing was slightly off, throwing an avoidable pick in Baltimore's opening drive while he has now been sacked an already career-high 37 times in 11 starts this season, compared to the last when he suffered just 29 in four more starts.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, though, believes his team and coaching staff need to do more to protect Jackson.

"We can put him in a better position too in terms of getting the ball out quick with some of those calls," Harbaugh added. "Seven sacks is too many. It's way too many. That's on us as a coaching staff to get that cleaned up."

The Ravens (8-4), despite the loss, still lead the AFC North by one game as they next prepare to face the Cleveland Browns (6-6).

Ben Roethlisberger deflected questions regarding his NFL future following the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-19 win over the Baltimore Ravens on as rumours mount about an offseason departure.

Roethlisberger has reportedly former team-mates and people within the Steelers organisation that he expects 2021 to be his final season with Pittsburgh.

There were doubts over the 39-year-old quarterback before he committed to another campaign in Pittsburgh.

Drafted by the Steelers in 2004, six-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has guided the franchise to two Super Bowl victories during his career at Heinz Field.

After helping the Steelers hold off the high-flying Ravens on Sunday, Roethlisberger dismissed the report as he refused to be drawn on his future.

"I haven't told everybody that, no," Roethlisberger said at the post-game news conference after the Steelers snapped a two-game skid and three-game winless run in total. "Honestly, we've just got done with this game, I'm exhausted.

"We play in a couple hours, it feels like. That's my focus. My focus is on Minnesota and what we have to do to get ready.

"I'll address any of that stuff after the season. I've always been a one-game-at-a-time, one-season-at-a-time person. I'm going to stay that way."

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin insisted there was no distraction to manage, fresh from Roethlisberger throwing two touchdown passes, completing 21 of 31 attempts for 236 yards, to beat the Ravens.

"There's nothing to manage," Tomlin said at the news conference. "Ben doesn't allow it to become an issue.

"Ben has been pretty solid in terms of his expressions that he's singularly focused on what it is that we're doing now. He'll deal with those things on the other side of this journey, and I'm with him on it."

The Kansas City Chiefs accounted for the Denver Broncos once again, 22-9 in a record-setting NFL victory as they continued their winning form.

Kansas City had won 11 consecutive games against Denver, a streak dating back to Week 10 of 2015 – the Chiefs had never enjoyed a longer winning streak over an opponent in franchise history.

But the in-form Chiefs eclipsed that streak in an historic victory as they also stretched their winning run in the NFL to five straight games on Sunday.

Patrick Mahomes was far from his best again, but the Chiefs still defeated the visiting Broncos in Kansas City.

Mahomes did not throw a touchdown, instead finishing with an interception on 15-of-29 passing for 184 yards, though he did rush for a TD on four carries.

The former MVP has already thrown 12 interceptions this season – matching his career high from 2018.

Kansas City used a 10-0 opening period to set the tone against the Broncos, with Daniel Sorensen's 76-yard pick-six of Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater putting the result beyond doubt with less than 10 minutes remaining in the final quarter.

In their last five games, Kansas City have allowed 17, seven, 14, nine and nine points, having given up 29, 36, 30, 30 and 38 in the team's opening five games. According to Stats Perform, they are the first franchise in NFL history to have a five-game winning streak allowing 25-plus points and a five-game victorious run allowing less than 20 points in the same season.

Tom Brady hopes he and Rob Gronkowski can break the NFL record for the most regular-season touchdowns by a pair of players after combining in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 30-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Brady and Gronkowski turned back the clock, teaming up for two touchdowns to lead NFL Super Bowl champions the Bucs past the Falcons on Sunday.

It was the 89th and 90th TDs between star duo Brady and Gronkowski – moving them second on the all-time list, topped by Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (112).

"I hope we do. I look for him down there, he is a really big target most of the game," the 44-year-old Brady said when asked if he and Gronkowski would play long enough to eclipse Manning and Harrison.

"I think what makes him so amazing is to do what he does in the run game and block defensive ends. Some of the biggest and strongest guys in the world. To run routes and catch balls and be so athletic. Along with the endurance he has, it is just really amazing."

Team-mates at the New England Patriots before teaming up in Tampa and guiding the Bucs to last season's Super Bowl title, Brady and Gronkowski dazzled against the Falcons.

Gronkowski's first touchdown came via a 27-yard pass in the second quarter before Brady found the four-time Super Bowl-winning tight end with an 11-yard throw in the third period.

A record seven-time Super Bowl champion, Brady finished with four TDs on 38-of-51 passing for 368 yards and one interception as he improved to 10-0 as a starter against the Falcons.

"He kind of makes it easy on any quarterback," Brady said of Gronkowski. "He's just so big, so quick, great hands. Just does an amazing job. A great catch-and-run that he had and then I threw the fade for a touchdown, which was really cool -- he makes those pretty easy, too. I obviously love being out there with him.

"It was good to see him make those plays. He was out for quite a while this year, you know? Just seeing him back, playing great, really enjoying it -- it's really fun for me. That's the best part."

Gronkowski added: "That second touchdown definitely brought us back to the heyday -- the fade. I wasn't supposed to have a fade but he saw and just reminds me of the heyday for us."

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said of the pair: "I think when you play that long together -- I mean, like Gronk said the other day, Tom knows what he's thinking before he does.

"And it's obvious out there a couple of times Tom's thrown a couple balls and even Gronk wasn't quite ready because he knew where he was going. It's great chemistry they have."

The Pittsburgh Steelers survived a wild finish as Ben Roethlisberger's team held on to edge Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens 20-19 in the NFL.

Baltimore went for the two-point conversion and the win after the Ravens scored a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining on Sunday, but Jackson's pass went agonisingly off Mark Andrews' fingertips with the endzone in sight.

The Steelers prevailed in another thrilling AFC North battle to snap a two-game skid after Roethlisberger (21-of-31 passing for 236 yards and two TDs) threw two fourth-down touchdowns to fuel Pittsburgh.

After a scoreless opening period, Devonta Freeman rushed for a TD as the Ravens (8-4) took a 10-3 lead into the final quarter away to the Steelers (6-5-1).

The fourth period came to life, veteran quarterback Roethlisberger started the comeback with an early 29-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson before the pair combined against less than two minutes from the end.

Trailing 20-13, former MVP Jackson (23-of-37 passing for 253 yards and a touchdown) led an eight-play, 60-yard drive for his only touchdown of the game but Baltimore were unable to complete the two-point conversion at the death.

Since the 2016 season, six of Pittsburgh's seven wins against Baltimore have come by seven points or less, per Stats Perform.

 

Seahawks snap skid by sinking Niners

The Seattle Seahawks needed a victory and they got it after powering past the San Francisco 49ers 30-23.

In a mistake-filled contest, the Seahawks ended their run of three consecutive losses behind Russell Wilson's two-touchdown display in Seattle.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson made his debut for the Seahawks and scored his 126th career touchdown on a one-yard rush. It broke a tie with Hall of Famer Walter Payton and moved the 36-year-old into a tie with Jim Brown for 10th in NFL history.

Jimmy Garoppolo threw two interceptions for the beaten 49ers.

The Los Angeles Rams also snapped a three-game skid, rolling over the Jacksonville Jaguars 37-7 after Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson all caught TD passes from Matthew Stafford.

The Los Angeles Chargers secured a huge win in the hunt for AFC playoff places as they overcame the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 at Paul Brown Stadium.

A spirited fightback from the Bengals almost led to the Chargers blowing a 24-point lead, but Brandon Staley's men responded in the fourth quarter to pull away from the hosts and put both teams on 7-5 for the season.

Quarterback Justin Herbert was at his effervescent best, throwing for three touchdowns and completing 26 of 35 passes for 317 yards overall.

The Chargers scored a touchdown from their very first drive of the game, bravely going for it on fourth and goal as Herbert fired a pass into Keenan Allen. The extra point was missed by Dustin Hopkins, though he did succeed with a 43-yard field goal attempt shortly after.

Jamar Chase thought he was in for a Bengals TD on the next drive but inexplicably dropped Joe Burrow's pass into the hands of Michael Davis to turn it into an interception, which proved costly as the Chargers secured another TD from the resulting drive as Herbert found Allen again.

The visitors' dominance continued at the start of the second quarter as Herbert executed a huge 44-yard pass into Jalen Guyton for another TD to make the score 24-0.

The Bengals began a comeback as Burrow threw a 29-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins, before running one in himself to cut the lead to 11 points at half-time, and that momentum continued in the third quarter as they pulled it back to an eight-point ball game with a 48-yard field goal from Evan McPherson.

A second fumble of the game for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gave the Bengals the chance to cut the lead further, which they did as Joe Mixon ran in his first TD of the day, but a Mixon fumble at the start of the fourth quarter allowed Tevaughn Campbell to run it in from 61 yards. Ekeler then made up for his fumbles with a one-yard running TD to secure the victory for his team.

Brady and Gronk roll back the years for the Bucs

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a comfortable 30-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combining twice for touchdowns, the first time they had done so since Week 2.

Brady's arm had a busy afternoon as he threw 19 passes in the first quarter alone, with 51 overall, completing 38 for 368 yards and four TD passes, including the two to Gronkowski.

The Bucs move on to 9-3 while the Falcons and their fading playoff hopes go to 5-7, level with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Lions finally roar after late drama

The Detroit Lions finally won a game, 364 days since they last did so, sealing a dramatic 29-27 win against the Minnesota Vikings by scoring a touchdown in the last seconds of the game.

Two touchdowns and two field goals for the Lions in the second quarter gave them a 20-6 lead at half-time, and they had an eight-point advantage going into the fourth quarter.

It seemed like it would be a gruelling near miss though as touchdowns from K.J. Osborn and Justin Jefferson put the Vikings 27-23 ahead with less than two minutes remaining, but in their last play, an 11-yard TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St Brown sent Ford Field into ecstasy. The Lions move on to 1-10-1 while the Vikings slip to 5-7.

The Los Angeles Chargers secured a huge win in the hunt for AFC playoff places as they overcame the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 at Paul Brown Stadium.

A spirited fightback from the Bengals almost led to the Chargers blowing a 24-point lead, but Brandon Staley's men responded in the fourth quarter to pull away from the hosts and put both teams on 7-5 for the season.

Quarterback Justin Herbert was at his effervescent best, throwing for three touchdowns and completing 26 of 35 passes for 317 yards overall.

The Chargers scored a touchdown from their very first drive of the game, bravely going for it on fourth and goal as Herbert fired a pass into Keenan Allen. The extra point was missed by Dustin Hopkins, though he did succeed with a 43-yard field goal attempt shortly after.

Jamar Chase thought he was in for a Bengals TD on the next drive but inexplicably dropped Joe Burrow's pass into the hands of Michael Davis to turn it into an interception, which proved costly as the Chargers secured another TD from the resulting drive as Herbert found Allen again.

The visitors' dominance continued at the start of the second quarter as Herbert executed a huge 44-yard pass into Jalen Guyton for another TD to make the score 24-0.

The Bengals began a comeback as Burrow threw a 29-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins, before running one in himself to cut the lead to 11 points at half-time, and that momentum continued in the third quarter as they pulled it back to an eight-point ball game with a 48-yard field goal from Evan McPherson.

A second fumble of the game for Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gave the Bengals the chance to cut the lead further, which they did as Joe Mixon ran in his first TD of the day, but a Mixon fumble at the start of the fourth quarter allowed Tevaughn Campbell to run it in from 61 yards. Ekeler then made up for his fumbles with a one-yard running TD to secure the victory for his team.

Brady and Gronk roll back the years for the Bucs

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a comfortable 30-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combining twice for touchdowns, the first time they had done so since Week 2.

Brady's arm had a busy afternoon as he threw 19 passes in the first quarter alone, with 51 overall, completing 38 for 368 yards and four TD passes, including the two to Gronkowski.

The Bucs move on to 9-3 while the Falcons and their fading playoff hopes go to 5-7, level with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

Lions finally roar after late drama

The Detroit Lions finally won a game, 364 days since they last did so, sealing a dramatic 29-27 win against the Minnesota Vikings by scoring a touchdown in the last seconds of the game.

Two touchdowns and two field goals for the Lions in the second quarter gave them a 20-6 lead at half-time, and they had an eight-point advantage going into the fourth quarter.

It seemed like it would be a gruelling near miss though as touchdowns from K.J. Osborn and Justin Jefferson put the Vikings 27-23 ahead with less than two minutes remaining, but in their last play, an 11-yard TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St Brown sent Ford Field into ecstasy. The Lions move on to 1-10-1 while the Vikings slip to 5-7.

The Carolina Panthers have fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

Brady was hired by the Panthers ahead of the 2020 campaign having overseen a historic college season by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow en route to an undefeated campaign and a National Championship triumph during his one-year tenure as passing game coordinator in 2019.

However, the Panthers entered their bye this week at 5-7 following back-to-back defeats to the Washington Football Team and Miami Dolphins.

Carolina's offense, prior to Sunday's Week 13 games, was ranked 31st in the NFL by yards per play (4.77).

Senior offensive assistant Jeff Nixon will coordinate the offense for the final five games of the season.

"I met with Joe this morning and informed him that I have decided to make a change," said head coach Matt Rhule.

"I'm very grateful to him for his time and effort in helping us get established over this past year and a half."

Brady will likely receive a lot of interest for jobs in the NFL and at the college level, where his reputation should still be strong following his exploits at LSU.

Kyler Murray made his return for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13, and it was announced with a call back to one of the most famous statements in US sport.

Quarterback Murray had missed the last three games for the Cardinals with an ankle injury, but he returned for 9-2 Arizona's road game with the Chicago Bears.

And the Cardinals confirmed his participation for the game at Soldier Field with a social media post inspired by a Chicago icon.

Mimicking Michael Jordan's famous statement announcing his decision to end his retirement from the NBA in 1995, the Cardinals posted a Tweet with an image of a mocked-up document that read: "The following statement was released today by Kyler Murray, located in Chicago, IL, in response to questions about his playing status against the Bears: 'I'm back.'"

The Cardinals went into the game looking to further cement their grip on the top seed in the NFC playoff race with victory over the 4-7 Bears.

John Metchie III may enter the 2022 NFL Draft on the back of a serious knee injury, with the Alabama star believed to have suffered a torn ACL.

Wide receiver Metchie is viewed by many as a top-50 player in the prospective 2022 class.

However, his hopes of being taken that high in April have been dealt a blow after Metchie sustained the injury during Alabama's 41-24 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.

That victory all but ensured Alabama will feature in the College Football Playoff as they bid to defend the National Championship they won last season.

But Metchie will now be a spectator for the remainder of Alabama's campaign after ESPN reported the apparent severity of an injury that left him in tears.

The setback means Metchie faces a more difficult decision about declaring for the 2022 draft.

With a year of college eligibility left, Metchie could return to Alabama for one more year and head to the NFL in 2023 hopefully without an injury hanging over him.

Should he choose to turn pro in 2022, Metchie will end his college career with 155 catches for 2,081 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers star T.J. Watt is clear to face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday after being activated from the reserve/COVID list.

The push rusher had been placed on the list on Monday in the latest setback in Pittsburgh's season, the Steelers having previously seen Ben Roethlisberger and Minkah Fitzpatrick also miss time due to positive tests.

Watt had only just returned after injury kept him out of the 41-10 rout at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, in which he recorded just two combined tackles.

The Steelers are said to have been sending practice footage to Watt all week so that he is apprised of the team's plan to face the Ravens.

Despite a difficult season for the Steelers (5-5-1) on the whole, Watt is a candidate for the AP Defensive Player of the Year, with 12.5 sacks and 41 tackles in nine games.

His 13 tackles for loss put him fourth in the NFL this season, behind Myles Garrett (15) and Micah Parsons and Nick Bosa (both 16)

The Seattle Seahawks activated veteran running back Adrian Peterson off the practice squad for Sunday's clash with the San Francisco 49ers.

Struggling Seattle had signed future NFL Hall of Famer Peterson earlier this week but elevated the 36-year-old on Saturday, despite only two days of practice.

The Seahawks (3-8) brought in the 2012 MVP and seven-time Pro Bowler – who was waived by the Tennessee Titans – for depth due to a growing injury list.

"Adrian had a good week," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said on Friday, with his team amid a three-game losing streak. "It's probably hard for people on the outside to understand the impact a guy with his kind of background can make.

"At a time where we're battling to try to win a game and get going, he jumped in here and had a remarkable influence on the week. With three guys banged up at the spot, we'll see how it goes on the weekend. He had a really productive week for us, and it was fun having him here.

"It's a rare opportunity for our guys to see somebody like that, that has that kind of background, but stands for so much more than just the numbers and the stats and all of that.

"He's been a remarkable competitor forever. It was so obvious. It was really a boost for a bunch of guys, the young guys in particular. He's serious about playing. He's not just here for show. He's here to come here and try to help us win a game."

The Seahawks have lost eight or more games in a season for the first time since going 7-9 in 2011. The nine straight seasons with seven of fewer losses is the longest streak in team history with the previous record being five straight seasons (2003-2007), according to Stats Perform.

Russell Wilson led the Seahawks in rushing with 16 yards in their 17-15 loss to the Washington Football Team. It was the lowest number of rushing yards for the team's leading rusher since Week 9 of 2016 when Tyler Lockett led the way with 13 rushing yards against the Bills.

When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract back in 2018, they believed they were landing a quarterback who put them over the top and could help them deliver a first Super Bowl title.

What they actually acquired, however, was perhaps the league's ultimate enigma at quarterback.

Nobody could look at Cousins' raw numbers and deem him a bad quarterback. Yet throughout his career both with the Vikings and beforehand in Washington, he is a player who has continued to confound, most notably with an apparent inability to deliver in 'clutch' situations with the game on the line.

Cousins' time as a pro was arguably encapsulated by his showing in Week 12. In the most important game of a season in which he has the best touchdown to interception ratio in the NFL, Cousins came up dismally small, a series of poor throws and a turnover dooming the Vikings to defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Vikings are not without their problems in other areas. However, with the weapons around Cousins, theirs is an infrastructure seemingly conducive to quarterback success.

In terms of his statistics, Cousins has largely succeeded in 2021. Yet baffling performances like the one that dropped the Vikings to 5-6 last week only serve to give rise to the debate around Cousins and whether he is holding his team back.

Cousins' San Francisco slump

Already over 3,000 yards passing with six games still to play, with 23 touchdowns and a career-low three interceptions to his name, statistically the 2021 campaign ranks among Cousins' finest seasons.

Delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 80.8 per cent of his pass attempts, above the league average of 78.4, and throwing a pickable pass on 10 out of his 385 attempts, Stats Perform's advanced metrics also reflect well on Cousins.

But it is that apparent season-long consistency that makes displays like his showing against San Francisco all the more bemusing.

Cousins has done an excellent job of taking care of the football this season, yet his third interception of the year came in the third quarter against the Niners as he somehow failed to spot linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair crowding his throwing lane on an attempted pass to Adam Thielen. As far as failures to correctly read the field go, that was as bad as it gets.

That interception set the Niners up to take a 28-14 lead, a gap the Vikings were unable to bridge in large part because of inaccurate throws by Cousins.

He led the Vikings on a touchdown drive on the next series only to then miss a wide-open Justin Jefferson on a two-point conversion try with a low throw.

Jefferson was the target on a fourth-down throw in the fourth quarter that sailed well over his head, that play coming after Minnesota burned a timeout due to Cousins lining up behind the right guard instead of the center.

Cousins is not the first quarterback to accidentally line up in the wrong spot in the heat of the moment, but such a gaffe gives the impression of a signal-caller ill-equipped to deliver when the pressure is at its highest.

And, given the performance of the surrounding weapons, it is no wonder Jefferson was left throwing his arms up in disbelief at some of Cousins' misses.

Stacked supporting cast

Any thought of Jefferson taking a step back after a historic 2020 season that saw him break the rookie record for receiving yards has been put to bed.

Jefferson is on pace to surpass his tally of 1,400 yards from last year and, among wide receivers with at least 25 targets, he ranks seventh in burn percentage, which measures the rate at which a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, while he is 11th with a big play rate of 39 per cent.

Thielen, who had a pair of touchdowns against San Francisco, has also excelled at creating big plays, doing so on 34.6 per cent of his targets.

With K.J. Osborn emerging as a legitimate third receiving option and Tyler Conklin enjoying a career year at tight end, Cousins possesses one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL and is supported by a run game that has produced 37 runs of 10 yards or more, the 12th-most in the league.

The potential absence of Dalvin Cook with a shoulder injury may reduce the assistance Cousins gets from the ground attack, but he is certainly in no position to complain about a stacked supporting cast, though he may be frustrated by a lack of help from other areas.

The Vikings' fatal flaw

Cousins' sack numbers have drastically improved this season. After taking 39 sacks last year, he has suffered only 15 across 11 games in 2021, pointing to an improvement on the offensive line.

Yet a deeper assessment at the O-Line's performance suggests there may be a hint of fortune about the Vikings' success in preventing sacks.

Indeed, Cousins has attempted 136 passes under pressure, second only to Matt Ryan (145), while the Vikings rank a lowly 28th in pass protection win rate.

More often than not, the Vikings are losing the battle in the trenches, and that is the case on the defensive side of the ball, too.

Continually bullied off the ball by the 49ers' superb rushing attack, the Vikings gave up 208 yards on the ground at an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.

Though San Francisco's run game has dominated several teams this season, the Vikings' inability to stop them was in keeping with a theme of their season.

They rank 26th in opponent yards per play allowed with 5.87 and are giving up 4.83 yards per rush, the most in the NFL. In Stats Perform's rush yards under expected allowed, the Vikings are also 26th.

Minnesota's severe underperformance in containing opposing run games has a two-pronged effect. It has contributed to a defensive effort that has the Vikings giving up 25.1 points per game - with only eight teams conceding more - and allowed opponents to control the clock as the 49ers did last Sunday.

Cousins' inability to make the key throws and that dismal interception undoubtedly played a critical role in Minnesota coming up short in Week 12, but the massive disadvantage in time of possession that resulted from San Francisco's run game dominance, along with a fumble from Cook as he suffered his injury, limited opportunities for the passing game to turn things around.

That a quarterback of Cousins' experience and undoubted talents continues to throw in these sporadic head-scratching showings is a legitimate problem for the Vikings. However, they are too infrequent for him to be considered as holding Minnesota back.

The reality is that, between the amount of points they are giving up and Minnesota's ineffectiveness against the run, the Vikings - for all their strengths on offense - aren't in a position to survive Cousins' off days.

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