Kevin O’Connell was glassy-eyed as he walked to the post-game podium. The crimson rings around his eyes said everything – it was an emotional win. The Minnesota Vikings had been down 27-10 early in the third quarter and beat the Buffalo Bills 33-30. In Western New York. In front of some of the rowdiest fans in the NFL.
“I felt bad breaking up how much fun they were having to give my little coach’s spiel,” O’Connell joked, referring to when he gave his post-game speech. “But there were some good game balls to give out, just letting these guys know how proud I am of them. Stuff like this doesn’t happen too often.
“When we unpack this one and really figure out what happened, I think there will be a lot of learning moments. But I think there will be a lot of moments where we look back and shake our heads a little bit.”
In many ways, it felt like a game played between two of the league’s most hard-luck franchises. The Bills are Minnesota’s brethren in blight. Both teams have lost four Super Bowls. They have suffered playoff misery. Their die-hard fans still support them, though. Passionately but anxiously.
Imagine being a Bills fan right now. Finding empathy for the enemy is hard, but the game is over. The Vikings have won. So bear with me for a second.
The Bills’ defense stuffs Kirk Cousins on a quarterback sneak on the half-yard line with a 27-23 lead, only for Josh Allen – playing immaculately through a UCL injury – to drop the ensuing snap. Eric Kendricks alertly falls on it. Touchdown Vikings. They lead 30-27.
You know the feeling Bills fans had when they drove 69 yards on five plays and tied the game, only to lose it in overtime. You know how they felt when they witnessed the Vikings drive 60 yards to take the lead. And you know the feeling every Buffalo fan had when Patrick Peterson reeled in the game-sealing interception in the end zone.
Everyone who bleeds purple knows that feeling because they’ve been there before.
The game was emblematic of the rocky season, but the players stayed as steady as possible and rode out the win.
“It’s tough,” Justin Jefferson admitted when asked how the team kept its emotions in check. “It’s tough to stay in there, especially in the NFL. … This team just stays with the fight. The whole season, we’ve been fighting all year. Even when we’re down and don’t have any momentum, we just keep fighting all the way to the end.”
The Vikings proved something in Buffalo: They can beat a contender the way they’ve been winning. It doesn’t matter if it’s beating the 3-6 Detroit Lions or the 6-3 Bills in the final seconds; they’ve gotten by. They only led Detroit for 45 seconds, let the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears back into games they didn’t belong in, and had to mount a comeback over the Washington Commanders. No matter. They did the same thing against the Bills.
The method works. Or at least it has so far, aside from the Philadelphia Eagles game.
O’Connell has kept the team positive. They have steadying veterans in the locker room, like Adam Thielen and Peterson. They also have superstars like Jefferson and Dalvin Cook, who can change a game on an 81-yard run or with an Odell Beckham Jr.-like catch. The defense has talent on all three levels. It was deep enough in the secondary to keep Allen and the Bills’ offense from blowing the game wide open.
The Vikings are good — just in a weird, uncertain way.
The Bills game was epic. There is no way around that. But it wasn’t an offensive barn-burner like Minnesota’s 38-31 Thursday night loss to Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams in 2018. Nor was it like Buffalo’s playoff game for the ages last year, where they lost 42-36 in Kansas City. Two epic games. Two losses to some of the league’s marquee teams. Familiar pain.
The Vikings may never become a McVay-lite team this year. But there is still room to grow, of course. It’s Week 10. Still, how much do we really think they’ll change? They have Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and Thielen. They’ve been in a McVay scheme for over two months. They still probably squeak by opponents all year until they can’t. Most games across the league are decided by one score, after all. And offense has been down this year. Any team can win on any given Sunday.
The Vikings are 8-1 after 10 weeks. They just beat the Bills. Can they sustain this for eight more games? Will they win close games in the playoffs? Or will they eventually suffer a devastating loss like the Bills just did?
Nobody knows. But nobody can say for sure that they can’t keep winning close games, either, because they keep doing it.