John Shipley: Vikings just continue to figure it out
The Vikings have won games just about every conceivable way this season.
MINNEAPOLIS - How crazy has the Minnesota Vikings’ season been? These last-minute, last-second, one-score victories are starting to run together even for the players.
After Saturday’s 27-24 victory over the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium, right tackle Brian O’Neill was explaining how the Vikings settled on the screen pass to Justin Jefferson that set up Greg Joseph’s franchise-record, 61-yard, game-winning field goal when he suddenly asked reporters, “Was it a field goal that we won with last week?”
Yes, after just one week, the details of the Vikings’ NFL-record comeback from a 33-point deficit in a 39-36 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts had become hazy. Some of them, anyway.
Greg Joseph won that game, too, with a 40-yard field goal as time expired. So, you know, the lines tend to blur. That field goal was set up by a screen pass from Kirk Cousins to Jefferson, which netted 13 yards — just enough to put the game on Joseph’s foot.
It was the same play on Saturday, as well. This time it netted 17 yards on third-and-13 and set up Joseph’s historic game-winner, the longest field goal in franchise history. For the win.
They weren’t the only records set. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson caught 12 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown to set a franchise single-season record with 1,756 receiving yards. T.J. Hockenson set a franchise single-game record for receptions by a tight end with 13, for 109 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings’ NFL-record 11-0 mark in one-score games continues to grow.
What a season.
The Vikings have won games just about every conceivable way this season, and while it’s easy to joke that the only way still missing is convincingly, that’s not quite true. It was just so long ago, Sept. 11 to be exact, that Minnesota opened what has been a remarkable season with a 23-7 victory over NFC North archrival Green Bay.
The last 11 wins have been so exciting, so full of twists and turns, that they’re hard to keep straight. The easiest part to remember is that they all add up to 12 wins, and an NFC North title, with two games yet to play. The Vikings are 12-3. At what point are they no longer lucky?
“People keep doubting us, but we’ve got 12 wins,” defensive back Josh Metellus said. “So, I don’t know what to say, man.”
No one knows exactly what to say but maybe the facts are enough. The Vikings are 11-0 in games decided by one score, another NFL record, and during every one of them, they seemed to have run out of mojo. The only close game they have lost — the Vikings were worked over pretty good by Philadelphia and Dallas — was a 34-23 loss at Detroit that got out of hand late.
With Saturday’s win, the Vikings have won four of five games by a combined 18 points.
“It’s not a cliché anymore,” veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We always find a way to be at our best when our best is required.”
It’s impossible to say that luck — or fate or whatever you want to call it — hasn’t played a role in those 11 wins. Some things out of their control undoubtedly have gone their way.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields had a 51-yard touchdown run called back on an offensive holding call in a 29-22 win on Oct. 9. Bills quarterback Josh Allen fumbled from his own 1-yard line — with a lead, late in the fourth quarter — in a 33-30 overtime win on Nov. 13. On Saturday, Giants receiver Richie James flat-out dropped a first-down pass from Daniel Jones on third-and-5 from the Vikings’ 37-yard line, forcing New York to settle for a Graham Gano field goal and a 17-16 deficit.
“Luck is what you make it,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “You’ve got to take advantage of it.”
“Give them credit,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “They made a few more plays than we did.”
In all of their wins, the Vikings made more big plays than their opponent. On Saturday, it was Metellus blocking a punt to set up a touchdown pass to Jefferson. It was linebacker Brian Asamoah ending a Giants drive in Vikings territory when he stripped the ball from receiver Daniel Bellinger and recovered it. It was Daniel Hunter and D.J Wonnum sacking Jones for minus-3 yards on third-and-9 at the Vikings’ 22 to make New York settle for another Gano field goal.
That’s not luck.
“My dad always used to say, ‘The harder you try, the luckier you get,’ ” O’Neill said. “I think if we continue to put ourselves in good situations, and play really strong situational football (while) having a mindset that we’re going to win no matter what, then we’re going to get a couple of bounces here or there.”
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