For three quarters, what turned out to be a classic game against the Buffalo Bills felt like a standard Minnesota Vikings letdown. Early in the second half, Minnesota was down by 17 on the road in the elements against a quality squad. It felt reminiscent of the Week 2 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Vikings were still finding their identity in Week 2.
On Sunday, the Vikings, a team that had won six-straight one-possession games, knew they had been through this before. There was still time on the clock, which meant there was still a chance. Even after Kirk Cousins was stopped inches shy of the end zone with 44 seconds left, the team didn’t give up. That spirit didn’t waver when the Bills tied the game to send it to overtime. They didn’t panic as Allen marched the Bills into the red zone in overtime before Patrick Peterson’s interception sealed the victory.
This wasn’t a lucky win. Yes, there were fortunate bounces, but the Vikings have been building toward this all season long. A team that couldn’t get out of its own way in years past survived numerous haymakers against one of the league’s heavyweights. Now the Vikings’ Super Bowl aspirations are real. They know that not only can they beat anyone, but they are never out of a game. Sunday’s 33-30 victory over the Bills is the type of game that galvanizes a team and can trigger a championship run.
With that, here are five numbers that tell the story of the game of the year.
Justin Jefferson has had plenty of spectacular games during his career, but his best game as a pro came on Sunday. He caught 10 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. His dazzling one-handed snag on fourth-and-18 kept the Vikings alive, and he nearly scored later in the drive before falling inches short of the end zone.
It wasn’t like the Week 1 victory over the Green Bay Packers, where Jefferson was running wide-open all over the field. According to Next Gen Stats, he only had 1.48 yards of separation on his targets. The league average is 2.93. Still, this didn’t deter Cousins from throwing his way, as he targeted Jefferson 16 times.
The Vikings continued to take the ball away on Sunday, forcing four turnovers, including Peterson’s game-sealing interception in overtime. Turnovers have been coming in bunches lately, as the Vikings have forced 11 in the past four games.
It isn’t just taking the ball away, either. The timing of these takeaways has lifted the Vikings to victory. Last week, Harrison Smith’s interception put the Vikings in a position to tie the game against the Washington Commanders. On Sunday, the botched snap by Allen gave the Vikings a lead at a time when they had no hope of victory.
This wasn’t Cousins’ most aesthetically pleasing game. Both of his interceptions were putrid, especially the second one where he might as well have handed the ball to Bills cornerback Dane Jackson.
But Cousins bounced back and gave his teammates opportunities to make plays. His 357-yard performance was his first 300-yard passing game of the 2022 season. Five players caught three or more passes. Although his 71.8 passer rating won’t garner any Player of the Week talk, Cousins put together a gritty game that helped secure the victory.
Josh Allen may not have had a perfect game, but any questions regarding his elbow were quickly put to rest. Allen’s passes cut through the wind with the same velocity we’re accustomed to en route to 330 passing yards. When flushed out of the pocket, he made the Vikings pay, running for 84 yards and accounting for 414 total yards on the day.
Allen’s improvisation kept drives alive and almost beat the Vikings in their final two defensive drives. He waltzed the Bills into field goal range at the end of regulation. And Allen ran for gains of 18 and 20 yards on the first two plays of Buffalo’s overtime drive.
Allen wouldn’t have had these opportunities to improvise had the Vikings done a better job at finishing on their pass rush. Despite getting 31 total pressures on Allen, the Vikings only sacked him twice. And because Minnesota didn’t use a spy on him, Allen was able to break the pocket time and time again.
Za’Darius Smith again led the team with nine pressures and had one sack. Danielle Hunter got the team’s other sack while generating five pressures. Former Buffalo defensive tackle Harrison Phillips was second on the Vikings in total pressures, notching seven. That includes when he ran over Bills center Mitch Morse on Smith’s sack.