In a season full of exciting finishes and seven come-from-behind victories, nothing can top the incredible Week 11 win in Buffalo with Justin Jefferson’s 4th-and-18 miraculous catch and Josh Allen’s goal line fumble for a Vikings TD.
But Saturday’s best NFL comeback of all time that produced the roller coaster 39-36 overtime thriller over the Colts came very close to the Bills game for drama.
The payoff was even bigger against Indy — the Vikings’ first NFC North title since 2017.
It was a game in which the resilient Vikings again had to overcome a lot of adversity, mostly self-inflicted by poor special teams play, an early drive-killing Dalvin Cook fumble, and two interceptions (one of which was a pick-six). The second interception resulted from Jefferson briefly exiting the game after hard hits and his replacement Jalen Reagor inexplicably stopping on a fourth-quarter deep route.
The officials also contributed to the Vikings’ difficulties by blowing two plays dead that should have resulted in fumble return touchdowns by Chandon Sullivan.
How the Greatest Comeback in NFL History Went Down
Kirk Cousins was tremendous in leading his career-high seventh game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, a league-high this season. He threw for an amazing 417 yards and 4 TDs in the second half and overtime on a day when he set his career high with 460 passing yards.
The Vikings receiving corps was outstanding as usual, with a career day from K.J. Osborn and the usual excellence from Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Cook made up for the costly fumble with the biggest play of the game — the 64-yard catch and run TD on a perfectly executed screen to pull the Vikings within two points with 2:15 left in regulation.
The Vikings moved to 10-0 in one-score games on a weekend in which there were 12 such games (tied for the most in a single week in NFL history going into the Packers-Rams Monday night game).
Among the best things to come out of Saturday’s game was the performance of the much-criticized Vikings defense, which held the Colts to five field goals when the game could’ve been put more out of reach in the first half/early third quarter. The D delivered a 2-for-11 performance on third and fourth down defense during the Vikings’ 39-3 onslaught after being down 33-0.
The Minnesota D also ended the streak of five games in which the opposing offense generated 400 plus total yards by holding the Colts to 341 yards (132 in the second half and overtime). Most importantly, the Vikings — led by linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks along with Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Smith — stopped Matt Ryan on a 4th-and-1 QB sneak with 2:31 left in regulation from the Vikings 36-yard line. If Ryan had converted, that could’ve led to a winning field goal by Chase McLaughlin, who was 5 for 5 on the day.
I think Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday made a mistake by not having McLaughlin try a 53-yard field goal that could’ve put the Colts up by 11 points and basically clinched the win (since he was kicking so well).
The Vikings next host the Giants, who are coming off a gutsy 20-12 win in Washington to remain as the No. 6 seed in the NFC at 8-5-1.The G-Men stopped a four-game winless streak. For the Vikings, it’s important to keep winning and hang onto the No. 2 seed over the hot 49ers, who have won seven straight games.
Here are my other reactions to the win over the Jets:
1. About those special team miscues which must be eliminated come playoff time: the excellent kickoff coverage early this season was a big problem as Dallis Flowers had a 48-yard return to open the game and a 49-yard return to set up a third-quarter field goal. Ryan Wright had a first-quarter punt blocked (by former Viking Ifeadi Odenigbo) and returned for a TD to put the Colts up 10-0. Then Wright threw high to Jalen Nailor on a fake punt in the second quarter, which set the Colts up at the Minnesota 31 and led to a field goal. And there was a phantom face mask call on Kris Boyd that nullified a 51-yard punt return in the early fourth quarter by Reagor.
Wright regrouped late with a couple of excellent punts inside the 20, including a 63-yarder downed at the Indy 2 with 22 seconds left in regulation. And Greg Joseph continued his better kicking of late with another perfect day — 5 for 5 on PATs and the game-winning 40-yard field goal.
2. It was a good sign for the defense to see Za’Darius Smith recovered from his knee issues and have a more impactful game with a half-sack, 5 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles. Danielle Hunter also had a fine game with 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 5 tackles. The pass rush re-emerged with more pressure on Ryan (3 sacks) as embattled defensive coordinator Ed Donatell called more blitzes — which Kevin O’Connell had insisted on — with at least 10 coming after halftime adjustments were made. This included a critical sack on a blitz by Eric Kendricks with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter that helped kill the Colts drive. Kendricks had a great game with 12 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, plus the sack.
Another defender who played well was corner Duke Shelley who started in place of Cam Dantzler after Dantzler was sick during the week. Shelley was targeted six times and allowed only two completions for 15 yards.
3. The Vikings gave up 171 rushing yards even with the Colts missing Pro Bowl back Jonathan Taylor after the first series (ankle). This was due in part to the Colts playing overly conservative with the big lead in the second half as Matt Ryan threw for only 64 yards in the second half and O.T. With the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher in Saquon Barkley (1,170 yards, 9 TDs) of the Giants coming to town along with a good running QB in Daniel Jones (583 rushing yards, 5 TDs on the ground), the Vikings will have to be strong against the run this Saturday and continue to be more aggressive with blitzes on Jones.
4. Cook, K.J., J.J., Thielen, and Hockenson deliver at crunch time: Cousins was terrific in the second half and O.T., but his excellent receiving corps made big play after big play, including Cook with the brilliant screen TD on which he was aided by great blocks from Christian Darrisaw, Osborn, and Thielen.
The numbers for the receiving corps: Osborn — 10 receptions, 157 yards, 1 TD; Jefferson — 12 catches for 123 yards, 1 TD (with a great cut outside against Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore); Thielen — 3 for 41, 1 TD with key grabs down the stretch; Hockenson — 3 for 33 and the game-tying two point catch. But Hockenson needs to concentrate on not losing his footing, as occurred when he stumbled and fell one yard short of a first down in the second quarter with the Vikings down 20-0.
With 1,623 receiving yards this season, J.J. must average 114 receiving yards over the final three regular-season games to break Calvin Johnson’s NFL record of 1,964 yards.
5. The offensive line protected well late after a rough day with seven sacks allowed (as expected, Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner led the charge with 1 sack, 3 QB hits, 1 tackle-for-loss, and 1 pass knocked down). The Vikings need to get center Garrett Bradbury back soon from his back injury, as there’s a drop-off to backup Austin Schlottmann.
6. The league office should reprimand this officiating crew and disallow them from working a playoff game. It was ridiculous to see the obvious second fumble by Deon Jackson as he was still standing and trying to advance when the play was blown dead (but at least the Vikings were given the ball, just not the deserved TD for Sullivan).
7. With the division clinched, it will be interesting to see how O’Connell decides to utilize key players with an injury history, such as Cook, Za’Darius Smith, Hunter, and Bradbury, in the last three regular season games as the Vikings seek to maintain the No. 2 seed but also enter the playoffs as healthy as possible. And it sounds like tight end Irv Smith Jr. could return soon from his high ankle sprain to add another weapon.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. Giants coming on Christmas Eve Day: just when we were about to dismiss the Giants as a team heading backward, they had a strong showing in a huge 20-12 road win at Washington. The G-Men were fortunate not to have cornerback Darnay Holmes called for pass interference in the end zone when he was all over Curtis Samuel on 4th-and-Goal from the Giants 6-yard line with 56 seconds remaining. The 8-5-1 Giants currently hold the NFC’s No. 6 seed and have a tiebreaker over No. 7 Washington (7-6-1) with Detroit and Seattle, both 7-7, in the wild card hunt.
2. The Lions stayed hot in winning a tight game at the Jets 20-17. In one of many exciting Week 15 finishes, the Lions took the lead after the two-minute warning on a 4th-and-1 TD pass of 51 yards from Jared Goff to tight end Brock Wright (who replaced Hockenson as the starter after the trade with the Vikings). This was Detroit’s sixth win in the last seven games after a 1-6 start.
3. The Patriots have to be sick with how their game ended on an ill-advised lateral that was intercepted on the final play by Chandler Jones and returned for the Raiders’ winning TD when a kneeldown would have sent the game to overtime.
4. It was a strange weekend with NFL frontrunners struggling against losing teams—starting with the Vikings comeback against the Colts. Houston took Kansas City to overtime before the Chiefs won it on a 26-yard run by former Viking Jerick McKinnon. In the third OT game of Week 15, the Jaguars shocked the Cowboys 40-34 with a game-winning 52-yard interception return in overtime by Rayshawn Jenkins. Dallas still clinched a playoff spot, but they may have been looking ahead to this Saturday’s NFC East showdown at home against the now 13-1 Eagles, who need just one win or one Dallas loss to clinch the division.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl