The Minnesota Vikings haven’t given us this feeling since the Minneapolis Miracle.
In the aftermath of Case Keenum’s walk-off touchdown to Stefon Diggs, Vikings fans spent an entire week trying to digest what had just happened. There were wild plays on both sides of the ball. A punter played with broken ribs. Sean Payton mocked the SKOL chant. Diggs. Sideline. Touchdown. Unbelievable.
Never mind what happened one week later in Philadelphia. The Vikings had turned their pessimistic but loyal fan base into believers, and it felt like they could take on anyone in their way.
Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills felt the same way. The Vikings came in as a 7-1 team but didn’t feel like a true contender. Their path to the top of the standings had been filled with backup quarterbacks and bizarre coaching decisions, while the Bills were crowned Super Bowl favorites dating back to last summer.
This was supposed to have one of two outcomes. Either the Vikings would get run off the field, or they would mount an admirable effort that could be chalked up as a learning experience. It wound up being neither.
It felt like the game was over in roughly eight different moments. No road team had overcome a 14-point halftime deficit in Buffalo since the 1960s. Tyler Bass’ field goal early in the third quarter gave them a 17-point lead. After Dalvin Cook’s 81-yard touchdown run, the Bills marched right down the field before Josh Allen threw an interception in the red zone.
Fourth-and-18 should be able to stop the Vikings. Justin Jefferson said, “Nope.”
The Vikings marched down to the goal line, and Buffalo stopped them with 37 seconds left and no timeouts. Minnesota scored a touchdown on a botched snap, and Buffalo marched down the field again, thanks partly to a non-catch by Gabriel Davis.
The Vikings got stopped on the goal line (thanks to 12 men on the field, which the officials missed) and had to settle for a field goal. Then Allen almost ran all the way across the field until Patrick Peterson came up with the game-clinching interception.
In the aftermath, Vikings fans wondered two things. 1) Who the hell is Duke Shelley? And 2) Why does this team feel special?
If we go back in modern Vikings history (aka, post-Purple People Eaters), only four other teams held the mantra of being “special.” The 1987, 1998, 2009, and 2017 teams all felt like bonafide Super Bowl contenders. This year’s team is inching closer to that list.
But again, what makes these teams special? It’s all about a defining characteristic.
The 1987 team was a great squad but had only played half the season due to the NFL players’ strike. Once the work stoppage was over, the Vikings picked up where they left off and were a Darrin Nelson drop in the end zone away from the Super Bowl.
To borrow Luke Braun’s phrase in The History of the Minnesota Vikings documentary, 1998 was a nuclear warhead powered by their offense. With Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed catching bombs from Randall Cunningham and Robert Smith churning out a 1,100-yard season on the ground, the Vikings simply outscored everyone.
The 2009 season was Brett Favre’s (next to) last stand. From a last-second laser to Greg Lewis up until he hobbled off the field in New Orleans, Favre’s desire to stick it to the Green Bay Packers fueled a 12-4 season.
Then there was the 2017 team, which used one of the most dominant defenses in franchise history to carry Keenum and an emerging offense to the doorstep of playing a Super Bowl in their own stadium.
We all know how it ended for each of these teams, but it doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t fun. While the Vikings are having the time of their lives creating a nightclub in the sky after every home game, they don’t seem to have a dominant trait.
Justin Jefferson has been a one-man wrecking crew, but he doesn’t feel like the sole reason the Vikings are 8-1. Kirk Cousins’ transformation into “Kirko Chainz” is the best character arc since wrestler Roman Reigns became “The Head of the Table,” but he’d be the first to tell you that it’s not all him.
The defense still has moments of “Oh my God, they’re going to blow this!” and Greg Joseph seems like the most likely antagonist to bring this train to a screeching halt. But if there’s one defining characteristic of this team, they never give up, which is a far cry from what we’ve seen the past two years.
It’s unfair to call Mike Zimmer’s regime a complete failure. He was the architect of that 2017 team, after all. But that team lacked the same feeling of belief that the 2022 crew has. When they got punched in the mouth in the 2017 NFC Championship Game, they never fought back – at least not like this team.
The characteristic goes back further than Sunday’s win at Buffalo. In Week 3, the Vikings needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Detroit Lions. The following week, it was a double doink against the New Orleans Saints.
The Vikings blew a 21-3 lead against the Chicago Bears before constructing a game-winning drive, and they scratched their way through a lethargic offensive effort to beat the Miami Dolphins. Even the victory against the Washington Commanders required the type of 10-point comeback the Vikings couldn’t make the past two seasons.
All of these are impressive, but the trait is more noticeable when it’s on display on the road against a Super Bowl contender. There is a chance that having resiliency won’t propel the Vikings to their own championship aspirations. But, for now, they have the distinction of being one of the more notable teams in recent franchise history.