Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
To steal a line from the holiday season, the Vikings’ 27-24 victory over the Giants was somewhat of a Christmas miracle for a team that is now 12-3 in this magical season, including an NFL record 11-0 in one-score games.
Yes, the NFC North champion Vikings are more talented than the 8-6-1 Giants, who are a possible Wildcard round opponent. But in their eighth come-from-behind win this season, the Vikings overcame two Kirk Cousins interceptions nullified by a penalty and a great play by Adam Thielen to slightly dislodge the ball on a drive that wound up with the Vikings final TD.
Then, there was the Vikings defense which was up and down in forcing two turnovers, pressuring Daniel Jones (3 sacks, 9 QB hits) but giving up 445 yards to a below-average offense that ranked 22nd coming in. And then having Greg Joseph boot a franchise record 61-yard field goal to secure the victory and hold onto the NFC’s No. 2 seed over the red hot 49ers, what else can we say except this charmed 2022 season continues.
Revived Packers Next + Christmas Thrill
The only bad news for the Purple was Tua Tagovailoa unraveling with three interceptions and an awful second half on Sunday as the Dolphins blew a 20-10 lead and allowed the Packers to come back for a 26-20 road win. Green Bay’s third straight victory continues their 2022 season revival as they stayed alive in the wild card race at 7-8. Losses by Washington, Detroit, Seattle, and the Giants helped the Packers gain ground on all those teams, so they’re now only a half-game behind the Commanders for the final NFC Wildcard spot.
Worse yet for the Vikings, it means next Sunday’s game in Lambeau is a must-win for Green Bay, and it will be Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and not Jordan Love, who likely would’ve gotten the start if Miami had eliminated the Packers. The good news is a long-range forecast of 36 degrees, but there’s a chance of freezing rain or snow during the late afternoon game.
Now the Vikings can knock out their archrivals or face the possibility of seeing the Packers on wild card weekend for a 2022 season rubber match. But at least that game would be in Minnesota.
The Giants and Washington still hold the upper hand for the NFC’s No. 6 and No. 7 seeds. The Giants need one win to get in, and they host the lowly Colts and then play at Philly (when the Eagles will likely have the top seed and NFC East title wrapped up if they beat the Saints at home this week). Washington hosts Cleveland and a Dallas team that will likely be stuck at the No. 5 seed with nothing to play for.
The Packers would need to beat the Vikings and Lions in Lambeau and require either the Giants to lose twice or the Commanders to lose once. It’s not a promising situation for the 7-8 Packers, but they are alive and believe they’re in the hunt.
Here are my other reactions to the exciting Vikings win over the G-Men:
1. What a fantastic kick by Greg Joseph to set a Vikings record with the game-winner. “Greg had a great look in his eye, and he absolutely hammered it,” Coach Kevin O’Connell said. It had about five yards to spare as he hit his fifth game-winning field goal on another perfect 5 for 5 kicking day. It’s a good time of year to have a hot kicker with the playoffs coming up in three weeks, and if Joseph continues kicking this well, he’ll set himself up for a nice free-agent deal after this season.
2. Klutch Kirk comes through again as Kirk Cousins continues to change his career narrative with his eighth game-winning rally (a career-best in a season). I wasn’t thrilled with the clock management on the final drive as I thought the Vikings could’ve gotten Greg Joseph closer by working the sidelines, but there were two terrific plays on the drive — a 16-yard completion by Cousins to Justin Jefferson (under a heavy blitz that the offensive line did a great job picking up and Cousins and Jefferson executed well) and a 17-yard receiver screen to Jefferson with 19 seconds left.
3. J.J. and T.J. lead the way: Jefferson and Hockenson were targeted 32 times between them and had 25 of Cousins’ 34 completions. It was apparent going in that Hockenson could have a big day since the Giants had allowed a 113.9 passer rating on throws to tight ends. He caught 13 passes (a Vikings tight end record) for 109 yards and 2 TDs. His leaping 15-yard TD grab in the early fourth quarter to regain the lead was a beauty and showed why he was just selected to the Pro Bowl.
Jefferson had three huge catches in crunchtime on a day he broke Randy Moss’ team record for receiving yards in a season (now at 1,756) and Cris Carter’s mark for receptions in a season (now at 123). He ran a great route in beating double coverage on the 17-yard TD pass to put the Vikings up 24-16 with three minutes left. Then on the winning drive, he had two big catches to give Joseph a chance.
4. Where was the running game?: I thought O’Connell was too pass-happy in this game when facing the NFL’s No. 29 run defense. I know center Garrett Bradbury (back) was out (and they need him healthy for the playoffs and this week, if possible, against Green Bay’s Kenny Clark, one of the league’s top nose tackles). Pro Bowl nose tackle Dexter Lawrence was a handful inside against the run and pass O’Connell shouldn’t have Cousins throwing 48 times and taking 4 sacks and 11 QB hits while running it only 19 times in a close game against the Giants. I like limiting Dalvin Cook’s workload to keep him healthy for the playoffs, but just use Alexander Mattison more, and don’t forget about running it when Cook and Mattison were averaging 4.5 yards per carry against the Giants.
I especially didn’t like Cousins throwing incomplete downfield on 3-and-1 in the second quarter when a running play or quick pass would have been the more prudent call. And the 4th-and-2 deep shot in the fourth quarter to Jefferson with Adam Thielen in the vicinity was a perplexing call when a draw or short pass could have sufficed.
4. Danielle Hunter is coming on down the stretch: he had two sacks, four QB hits, and seven tackles on a day when the secondary struggled to defend Daniel Jones (334 passing yards, and I was impressed with Jones’ passing and running for 34 additional yards). It’s obvious that Hunter and Za’Darius Smith (3 QB hits) will have to make a significant impact for the Vikings to win in the postseason.
5. Positives for the defense were holding the Giants to seven points in the first half, to 3 of 11 (27%) on third downs, and forcing two turnovers, including a great strip/fumble recovery in the second quarter by rookie linebacker Brian Asamoah to stop a drive. Asamoah adds speed to the D and is deservedly getting more playing time.
6. Negatives on D: another 400-plus yard day allowed (445), and other than Patrick Peterson’s nice pick in the fourth quarter, it was a rough day for the secondary. Peterson was beaten for a TD and two-point conversion but did have a nice corner blitz pressure leading to a sack. Chandon Sullivan gave up too many receptions to an average receiving corps. And Duke Shelley was picked on but made a big third down pass breakup with help from Jordan Hicks just before Josh Metellus’ blocked punt that led to Jefferson’s TD and the late eight-point lead.
With the game on the line, the Vikings allowed the Giants to drive 75 yards in 59 seconds, with Saquon Barkley scoring on a 27-yard draw play before giving up the two-point conversion to tie the game.
7. Between Metellus’ outstanding play on the blocked punt and Joseph’s kicking, it was a great day for the Vikings special teams. The only snafu was Jalen Nailor not downing a Ryan Wright punt inside the 5-yard line when he was in position to do so.
Bottom line was another thriller that improved the Vikings home record to a league-best 8-1, which is good news with at least one home playoff game coming in January.
Around the NFL Observations in Week 16:
1. With the 6-9 Browns beaten at home by the Saints and officially eliminated from the playoff race, we can officially label Year 1 of the Deshaun Watson era a failure in Cleveland. On a cold day temperature (7 degrees) and passing-wise, Watson completed only 15 of 31 passes for 135 yards, no TDs, and one interception for the worst passer rating (47.1) of his career.
2. Mr. Irrelevant is becoming plenty relevant to the 49ers as he’s now 3-0 as the starter, plus a save. Rookie seventh-rounder Brock Purdy had his most productive game (234 passing yards, 2 TD passes, 68% completions) as Coach Kyle Shanahan is gradually opening up the offense. After beating Washington 37-20 without one of their best offensive players in Deebo Samuel, 11-4 San Francisco has won eight straight games and looks to be the NFC’s Super Bowl favorite if Purdy holds up and the league’s best defense continues to dominate (only 97 points allowed during their winning streak, an average of 12 points per game). All the more reason for the Vikings to hang onto the No. 2 seed, so if they play San Fran, it would be at home.
3. Cowboys outlast Jalen Hurts-less Eagles: Gardner Minshew passed for 355 yards with 2 TDs but threw 2 costly picks and had a lost fumble in the 40-34 loss. Dak Prescott shredded the Eagles No. 2 ranked defense for 347 yards and 3 TDs — not a good sign if these teams meet in the divisional playoff round, which seems likely with the seeding.
4. One of this season’s wildest stories — besides the Vikings one-score game heroics — is the Jaguars (winners of three straight) taking over the AFC South lead from the sinking Titans, who have now lost five straight. The division title will come down to the regular season finale in Jacksonville. Last year’s top overall pick Trevor Lawrence has come on with 7 TD passes, 1 interception, and 305 passing yards per game over the past three weeks. Jacksonville Coach Doug Pederson has done a nice job coaching up Lawrence after a shaky rookie season.
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