Cornerback Duke Shelley's first start for the Vikings was a roller coaster of moments during Thursday night's 33-26 win against the Patriots.
But the 26-year-old journeyman didn't flinch, showing the latest example of resiliency from a battered Vikings defense that has often had the last laugh this season. They did again against Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who threw for a career-high 382 yards but saw his last real shot fall incomplete on fourth down in the closing minutes.
"Good enough to win, but never good enough to our standard," safety Camryn Bynum said. "We gave up a lot of passing yards, a lot of small detail things where we'd get out of our assignments. A lot of small things, but they could exploit that."
Shelley, starting for injured cornerbacks Akayleb Evans (concussion) and Andrew Booth Jr. (knee), was on both ends of big plays on Thursday night. He was in coverage on a 40-yard deep ball to Patriots receiver DeVante Parker in the third quarter, which set up a go-ahead field goal by New England.
He also came up with a clutch end-zone deflection in the final seconds before halftime. Coaches swapped sides with Shelley and cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was put on the bigger target in Parker. Jones went after Shelley, but saw his pass broken up between the hands of Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne.
Shelley, the former Bears draft pick who signed with the Vikings in September, also had an end-zone deflection in the Nov. 13 overtime win in Buffalo.
"Can't give up touchdowns," Shelley said from his U.S. Bank Stadium locker next to the specialists. "I kind of knew they were going to go with a fade, so I lined up in press coverage."
The Vikings secondary surrendered a couple long scores.
Bynum hovered over Shelley's side of the field when Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor was found wide open for a 34-yard touchdown down the middle of the Vikings defense. Bynum then missed a tackle on tight end Hunter Henry during a 37-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
Entering Week 12, only the Falcons and Steelers had given up more completions of at least 20 yards than the Vikings defense. They surrendered another five on Thursday night.
But when the Vikings needed a play, Bynum came up with a key third-down deflection in the fourth quarter while covering Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers.
"We're just so close," cornerback Chandon Sullivan said. "We don't panic, and that's so cool to see early in the season because it's going to come into play in December and hopefully the playoffs. If we can win close games like this, it just builds confidence."
Shelley came up big in the fourth quarter, too, tackling Agholor to limit a receiver screen to a 1-yard gain.
"He wasn't nervous," Sullivan said. "He was telling coaches all week, 'I'm your guy.' So, he did exactly what I thought he'd do. I'm proud of him."
The Vikings promoted cornerback Tay Gowan from the practice squad for reserve help.