Most football games can hinge on a handful of plays, as can entire seasons.
Need an example? The Falcons and Seahawks are tied with a 9-6 record heading into the final week, but the Falcons hold the tiebreaker because Blair Walsh missed a field goal when the teams played head to head. The Lions? If they hadn’t gotten a touchdown overturned against Atlanta in Week 3, they could be the team with playoff hopes in Week 17 instead of being on the outside looking in.
The Minnesota Vikings have positioned themselves where they don’t have to sweat out their playoff fate this Sunday, thanks to an eight-game winning streak between Weeks 5-13 and a 12-3 record overall.
But there were times within the season when things could have gone sideways if not for some well-timed plays. Keep in mind, as well, that even one additional loss this season might have cost the Vikings a potential bye week, which may be invaluable in the playoffs.
Let’s take a look back at five plays that helped get the Vikings where they are today.
Week 5, fourth quarter, 2:32 remaining
After a 2-2 start, the Vikings entered Week 5 against the struggling Chicago Bears, who were starting rookie Mitch Trubisky for the first time. At Soldier Field, a building where the Vikings usually struggle, the Vikings found themselves in a 17-17 game late. A loss in the game would have put the Vikings two games back in the division with the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers looming the following week.
Trubisky got the ball just in front of the two-minute warning with a chance to drive the field and upset the Vikings in his debut, but standout safety Harrison Smith came up with the game’s biggest defensive play, setting up Kai Forbath’s game-winning field goal.
and how the game basically ended. Harrison Smith baited Trubisky into throwing that one, coulda been thrown better but an incredible D play. pic.twitter.com/GnChYNFKIk
— Defend The House (@DTHFootball) October 10, 2017
Week 6, first quarter, 7:04 remaining
Instead of falling two games back of the Packers — with the potential to fall behind by three with a loss — Minnesota entered their game with rival Green Bay in position to take the division lead with a win.
With the Packers possessing the ball midway through the first quarter, Anthony Barr tackled quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the ground, not only changing the course of the game, but altering the landscape of the NFC.
Rodgers’ broken collarbone put the Packers’ hopes in the hands of Brett Hundley, who lost winnable home games against the Lions and Baltimore Ravens. A healthy Rodgers likely wins those games and has Green Bay in the playoff picture. Hundley’s only wins came against the Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns.
Week 11, second quarter, 4:11 remaining
In a battle between two 7-2 teams, the Los Angeles Rams played step-for-step with the Minnesota Vikings in the first half at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Driving late in the second quarter with the score 7-7, it looked like Jared Goff had given the Rams the lead with a key third-down conversion — and possibly a touchdown — to Cooper Kupp, but reserve safety Anthony Harris turned the tide with a takeaway, and the Rams didn’t sniff the end zone again. Minnesota went on to win 24-7.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 19, 2017
Week 12, fourth quarter, 7:06 remaining
No team has had more of a comeback gene than the Lions over the past few seasons. Having beaten Minnesota with second-half comebacks three straight times, Detroit was at it again on Thanksgiving. They quickly erased a 27-10 deficit to pull within four at 27-23 and got the ball back with a chance to take the lead.
On third and 3 from their own 16-yard line, Matthew Stafford completed what should have been a first-down conversion to Golden Tate, but Tate ran behind the first-down marker after the catch and was tackled a yard short. As you can see in the screenshot below, Tate could have easily fallen backward to the 20-yard line for a first down.
Detroit was forced to punt, Minnesota extended its lead soon after, and the Vikings avoided another letdown in Motown.
Week 13, third quarter, 4:19 remaining
In the final victory of their eight-game winning streak, Minnesota took down Atlanta in a low-scoring affair with only 23 combined points.
Trailing 9-7 in the third quarter, the Vikings embarked on a 15-play, 89-yard, eight-minute drive to take a 14-9 lead. Along the way, Minnesota encountered a third-and-3 at Atlanta’s 44-yard line. Laquon Treadwell juggled a pass from Case Keenum that he eventually hauled in to convert a first down. If Treadwell drops the pass, Minnesota punts and potentially loses the football game.
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