Down 36-28 in the fourth quarter, the Minnesota Vikings stopped Matt Ryan short of the sticks on fourth-and-one and got the ball back with 2:15 left in the game. Only a couple of hours earlier, they had exited the tunnel at halftime down 33-0. In the land of 10,000 miseries, Minnesota’s first-half meltdown stood alone in its ineptitude.
- Old friend Ifeadi Odenigbo had blocked Ryan Wright’s punt, and JoJo Domann ran it in for a touchdown to go up 10-0.
- Dalvin Cook ripped off a 40-yard run in response but fumbled on the next play.
- The Vikings had turned it over on downs twice, and Kirk Cousins threw a pick-six after a miscommunication with Jalen Reagor.
But with 2:15 left, Cook caught a short pass from Cousins, dodged a couple of defenders, and took off for the end zone. A frustrated crowd booed the Vikings mercilessly in the first half. But they stuck around in the second, anxiously watching as Minnesota turned things around. Officially, Cook scored on a 64-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, which the Vikings won 39-36 in overtime. But he says that he was running out of gas, even as the energy in U.S. Bank Stadium was at an all-time high.
“I was tired, to be honest,” said Cook. “I was glad Ezra was there to kinda, like, get me into the end zone because I was tired.”
He then turned to Ezra Cleveland and yelled, “Ezra, I’m talking about how you just carried me into the end zone.” Cleveland turned around and looked at Cook and smiled. “He’s making me look good,” Cleveland said with a shrug.
“I think everybody emptied the tank, to be honest,” said Adam Thielen. “When you do that, and you fight with your brothers, and you do it over and over and over, and then you somehow pull out a victory, there’s just no better feeling. A lot of guys are just showing that they emptied the tank, and they gave everything that they could to go and win that game.”
There is a lot of merit to a player exerting himself in pursuit of a goal. Coaches and mentors try to engrain a work ethic and determination in players at a young age. It’s a noble act. But the issue with fully exerting yourself, putting forth maximum effort, is that it makes losing that much worse. You know the other team is better, that a more talented player beat you out for a spot. It can discourage even the most motivated players from leaving it all on the field.
“It’s just a special group,” says Thielen. “A lot of fighters, a lot of guys that have just been doubted their whole life and just keep coming to work and fighting, scratching, and crawling and finding a way to win. It’s a fun group to be around.”
Nobody drafted Thielen out of Mankato. Cook fell to the second round. K.J. Osborn’s hometown school, Eastern Michigan, didn’t recruit him. The Arizona Cardinals’ owners put letters from disgruntled fans in Patrick Peterson’s locker, telling him he was washed. Justin Jefferson was lightly recruited out of high school. Collectively, they comprise a team that few had winning the NFC North at the beginning of the season. Few pundits believe this team can go anywhere in the playoffs. Many are calling them frauds.
“I like the doubts,” said Jefferson. “I like when people don’t think we’re gonna win, don’t think we’re gonna be in the playoffs for a long period of time. I like the doubts. I’ve been doubted my whole career, so that’s what fuels the fire. That’s what fuels us, so we just gotta keep going out there with that on our mindset and just execute our plays when it’s called.”
The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys blew out the Vikings, and the Detroit Lions beat them by 11 in a game where Minnesota could have won the division. Instead, it took a 33-point comeback against an inferior Indianapolis Colts team to secure the NFC North. Minnesota knows they don’t make it easy on themselves. They know they are skating on thin ice, standing only inches above frigid water and an undertow.
“Just resilient, man,” said Peterson. “It’s a locker room full of guys that believe in one another. Guys that understand what we have in this locker room is very special. And you don’t want to waste this moment. We want to continue to cherish this moment, continue to make the best of our opportunities.
“We all live on the edge just a little bit. But when you can win in these type of games, these types of moments, no matter what the circumstances are, the confidence level just continues to grow.”
The Vikings have been here before. Not just in the 10 games they’ve won by one score but long before that. They were there when recruiters overlooked them, or teams passed on them in the draft. They’ve emptied the tank before, only to come up short. Fortunately, when one player fully exerts himself this year, another has been there to carry him.