The Vikings are headed to the postseason as a No. 3 seed after winning the NFC North outright with a 20-13 win over the Green Bay Packers Sunday night.
For a team that finished 5-10-1 just two season ago, a division title this soon was unexpected, and it made the season all the more enjoyable for loyal fans who’d watched the Packers rattle off four consecutive NFC North crowns.
Let’s take a look back at 10 of the defining moments that enabled the Vikings to reach this point.
The Bridgewater Shovel
In Week 2 of the season, fans were still waiting to see running back Adrian Peterson get loose in the open field and show flashes of his old self. On this broken play against Detroit, Peterson gave the crowd a huge thrill with this 49-yard run off a Teddy Bridgewater pitch. “Adrian just appeared in my vision and instead of taking a sack, I figured I could flip the ball to Adrian and he would make a play and he ended up making a big run for us.”
Chad Greenway Pick 6
Having had his role reduced in the early season, 10-year veteran Chad Greenway wasn’t seeing the field as much as he was accustomed, but in Week 3 against the San Diego Chargers he got his money’s worth with a 91-yard interception return touchdown to cap a convincing Vikings win.
But the best part was that Greenway’s 83-year-old grandfather was in attendance, seeing his grandson play professional football for the first time in his life. Greenway, still stinging from the death of his father late in 2014, was emotional after the game. “You just have to think my dad tipped the ball up,” said Greenway. “That’s all I can put together.”
The offensive MVP for the season’s first half may very well have been wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who put together a stretch of four consecutive magnificent games in which he averaged 105 yards. His most eye-popping highlight occurred Week 7 at Detroit, where he went airborne to catch a Teddy Bridgewater deep ball. “He probably posted it on his Instagram or something like that,” Bridgewater said of Diggs that week.
The Chicago Drought Ends
Having lost at Soldier Field each of the last seven years, not many folks were optimistic about the Vikings’ chances in Week 8 against the Chicago Bears. Things looked especially grim with Minnesota trailing 20-13 late in the game, but terrific rookie Stefon Diggs made a play that turned the tide and led to Blair Walsh’s eventual game-winning field goal. The Soldier Field Curse was vanquished. “I just think we’re getting a mindset that we’re pretty battle-hardened,” said Zimmer the day after the game. “We’ve got a lot of fighters on this football team, and I do think they believe that when it gets to the crucial situations of the game that we can perform.”
Picking the Wind
The Vikings found themselves in a Week 9 battle against an upstart St. Louis Rams team that wound up going to overtime. The usual choice for a head coach is to win the overtime coin toss and take possession of the football immediately, but Mike Zimmer went against the grain and decided to kick the ball to start the extra session and make the Rams play against the wind. “It wasn’t an easy [decision], I can tell you that,” said Zimmer. His plan worked out beautifully as St. Louis went three-and-out and punted the football to Minnesota, who only needed two first downs to get in field goal range.
Old Man New-Man
Mike Zimmer took a gamble on veteran cornerback Terence Newman during the offseason, and his risk paid off in a big way this season with Newman and Xavier Rhodes locking down some of the league’s top receivers. Newman’s biggest game came in Oakland, where he intercepted two passes from Derek Carr, one of which sealed the Vikings’ victory. “When we signed him I felt like he’d be a very solid, dependable guy that knows how to play, that does a lot of good things,” Zimmer said.
Peterson Goes for 203 Yards
The 30-year-old running back defied the odds and captured the third rushing title of his career, and his finest performance came in Week 10 against the Oakland Raiders on a sunny day in northern California. Supposedly, the offensive line set the 200-yard goal before the game started, and Peterson hit the mark with an 80-yard run late in the fourth quarter. “It’s a big goal to set, but you set big goals, and he wants and we want it,” said fullback Zach Line.
The Vikings’ 23-year-old quarterback continually showed his mobility this season with some impressive scrambles to avoid the pass rush (which he faced a lot of) and three touchdown carries. His finest play came against Chicago where he just about jumped over the Bears’ Tracy Porter for a 12-yard score. “I braced myself for the landing,” said Bridgewater. “I thought the guy was going to dive at my legs or something, that’s why I left my feet.”
Needing a win to secure a playoff berth in Week 16, the Vikings ran the New York Giants off the field. Eli Manning was intercepted three times, including this Pick 6 to Harrison Smith, who was making his return from injury. “Harrison’s a good football player,” said Zimmer. “He’s instinctive, quick-thinking, active. Getting him back is big.”
The Gatorade Bath
On a 20-degree night in Green Bay, Wisc., Mike Zimmer got a Gatorade bath that signified his team was a division champion. With the Vikings leading 20-13 and the clock reading 0:00, Zimmer watched an Aaron Rodgers pass float toward a mass of humanity in the end zone. Xavier Rhodes knocked the ball away, Zimmer raised his arms in triumph, and the team’s veterans hunted down Zimmer to douse him in celebration. “It felt really good,” Zimmer said. “It was a little sticky.”