I sent this tweet off right as Davante Adams torched Mackensie Alexander for a go-ahead touchdown. Once again, the Minnesota Vikings had sprinted out to a two-score lead. And once again, they had squandered it with the help of a defensive hurry-up debacle before halftime. With over seven minutes left in the game, there was plenty of time for a one-point game to swing either way. But it felt like the same song over and over again.
Even as Greg Joseph lined up for the 29-yard field goal that would seal the win, that sinking feeling appeared in the pit of every Vikings fan’s stomach. After all, Joseph has missed twice in the waning moments of regulation, once in Arizona and once to set up overtime in Carolina. We may never emotionally recover from a certain miss from No. 27 (I’m not linking it). And yet, the Vikings walk out with the win.
Joseph’s kick sealed the deal, but that game-winning opportunity came courtesy of several critical moments throughout the game. When everything is on the line, who has come through in the clutch? At 5-5, every game could be the difference between a playoff opportunity and a January on the couch. So, with the season on the line, we found out which Vikings had a hero play in them.
Justin Jefferson Is Utterly Unstoppable
With no Jaire Alexander, you may think that Green Bay entered Sunday’s game with a depleted, weak secondary. You would be mistaken. Eric Stokes and Kevin King are playing lights-out football, on top of Rasul Douglas and Darnell Savage. They had shut out D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in the previous week, although though Russell Wilson was injured in the game. Joe Barry has turned the Packers around after injuries derailed their early-season defense. All of that was supposed to set up a big challenge for Jefferson after coming off his massive 143-yard performance in LA.
Jefferson’s response was to make last week’s performance look routine. Eight catches, 169 yards, and two touchdowns later, it’s clear that the Vikings’ offense is best when it runs through him. With the game slipping away — that sinking feeling weighing down every Vikings fan — Jefferson scored his second touchdown of the day. Green Bay did everything they could, and it wasn’t enough. The quarterback has his role in that too, but we’ll come back to that.
Adam Thielen Still Has It
Much has been made about Thielen’s inconsistent season. For my money, the same problem holding Jefferson back was constraining Thielen as well. The new, aggressive offense has enough production to go around. Thielen’s stat line — eight catches for 82 yards and a score — doesn’t look as eye-popping as Jefferson’s. But true to form, Thielen seemed to display a different skill every time he touched the ball. Maybe Thielen’s top speed isn’t what it once was, but his well-rounded skillset is the kind that often ages well.
Thielen high-pointed and toe-tapped to convert a third down. He made would-be tacklers miss on more than one occasion. He even played defensive back on an ill-advised Kirk Cousins throw. At this point in Thielen’s career, he’ll play second fiddle to Jefferson. That’s no issue, especially as defenses sell out to stop No. 18.
Bashaud Breeland Deserves Credit
Bashaud Breeland has had his struggles over the course of the season. His first three games graded out as the worst in the league, per PFF. But he has turned things around since. Breeland was tested often in coverage, especially against the speedy Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He was targeted five times, per PFF’s immediate charting, only allowing two to be caught and nearly intercepting another.
Interestingly, Breeland moved to the defensive right in Sunday’s game. He had been a left-side cornerback exclusively until this game. With the Packers’ propensity to move Davante Adams around the formation, that may have been a measure to hide Breeland from Green Bay’s superstar. But with Patrick Peterson heading to the locker room in the second quarter (he returned after halftime), Breeland could hide no longer.
Indeed it did feel great, Bashaud. Indeed it did.
The Kirk Cousins Chaos Meter
This was the kind of game the chaos meter was built for. Cousins had an undoubtedly good game, but it was also chaotic. To sort this out, I built this measuring tool. The gray is for anemic checkdown games. Yellow is for games that Cousins has little impact on, one way or another. This game oscillated between the perfection of the green zone and the danger of the red.
One could argue that Kirk’s game, complete with multiple unrealized interceptions and a fumble, deserves to be in the red. Cousins almost threw the game away to Darnell Savage in the fourth quarter. He miscommunicated with Jefferson for another interception that was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty. He also threw a deep post to Thielen that should have been an interception were it not for Thielen’s aforementioned awareness.
If any of those interceptable passes actualized into turnovers, it’s likely the Vikings don’t win this game. But they didn’t, and the Vikings walk away with a win. That allows us to focus on the explosiveness Cousins unlocked. With messy pockets and oft-covered receivers, Cousins gave his playmakers a chance. Every one of Jefferson’s 169 yards started in Cousins’ hands.
The final two drives from Minnesota’s offense may come to define their entire season. Down a point with 5:32 remaining, the Vikings scored in 12 plays, and they got the two-point conversion to make up for Greg Joseph’s first-quarter extra point miss. With two minutes remaining, after the scary Darnell Savage drop, Cousins expertly led his offense down the field to point-blank range and set up Joseph’s game-winner. Joseph himself deserves some hero credit, in spite of said extra point miss.
With the game on the line, the Vikings were confident and collected. How could they not be? Adam Thielen described a cool, calm offense, entirely unfazed by their umpteenth game-on-the-line situation. Mike Zimmer said it best: “They’re very experienced at the last play of the game.” That experience will no doubt be important in late January, as the Vikings fight for a spot in the playoffs and beyond. Let’s hope the heroes have more bravado in the tank.