By Patrick P. Marek
Amazon sells defibrillators. I know because I checked after the Vikings’ heart-pumping, corpuscle-jumping, history-making, NFC North-clinching comeback against the Colts Saturday afternoon. The hefty price tag and the fact I have no history of heart disease put me off the purchase, but I also reasoned that if the Vikings haven’t killed me yet, then my regimen of generous hydration and frequent, stress-relieving bellows must be working to keep me healthy no matter what intense purple drama might come my way.
On Saturday, Minnesota celebrated its 1,000th game as an NFL franchise. Tommy Kramer and Ahmad Rashad blew the Gjallarhorn to start the game and commemorate their “Miracle at the Met” comeback win against the Cleveland Browns in week 15 of the 1980 season. The Vikings were down 23-9 in the fourth quarter of that game, and their playoff hopes were on life support. “Two Minute” Tommy Kramer passed for two touchdowns to Rashad in the last two minutes, including a 46-yard “Hail Mary” that Rashad caught with one hand on the last play of the game to propel the Vikings into the playoffs. Could the 2022 Vikings possibly do something that could top that accomplishment? Be careful what you wish for.
The Vikings were so impressed by the memory of the 1980 squad’s comeback that they put themselves in position to kick it up a notch and set the stage for the greatest comeback in NFL history. It wasn’t an easy task. First, they had to go into halftime with a 33-0 deficit. Many fans decided to abandon U.S. Bank Stadium and jumped ship to catch up on some Christmas shopping after booing the team off the field at halftime. Televisions across the country switched from the NFL Network to the Hallmark Channel. According to Yahoo Sports, NFL teams were 1,548-1-1 when leading by 30 or more points dating back to 1930. The numbers were grim. The Vikings had less than a 1 percent chance of winning the game.
Luckily, Patrick Peterson had his own math problem for the team to focus on. Things were pretty sober in the Vikings’ locker room at halftime until he boomed: “We’re going to get stops. You just need five touchdowns. That’s nothing!” At first, Kirk Cousins and the rest of the team thought Peterson was being sarcastic. It turns out that he was serious as a heart attack. The team bought in. They talked about some of the other great comebacks in NFL history. Justin Jefferson encouraged everyone to “flip the switch.” Linebackers coach Greg Manusky had this message: “This is going to be the greatest comeback in history.”
Minnesota stormed onto the field to start the second half, and looked, temporarily, like the same team that had been manhandled earlier in the game. The Vikings received the kickoff and failed to generate any offense. The Colts took advantage of soft coverage and were able to move into Minnesota territory and connect with a field goal. It turned out to be one of the last times Indianapolis would cross the 50-yard line for the rest of the game. The Vikings began blitzing and cranking up tight coverage in the secondary. The defense was delivering on its promise. Now, what about those five touchdowns?
Kirk Cousins flipped the switch from “Dr. Checkdown” to “Mister Clutch,” and turned in a performance for the record books. After passing for only 43 yards and a pick six (Jalen Raegor, we now know why the Eagles were in such a hurry to get rid of you) in the first half, Cousins finished with a personal record 460 yards passing and four touchdowns to four different receivers. K.J. Osborn hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass from Cousins with 8:44 elapsed in the third quarter to start the scoring for the Vikings, and then it was literally off to the races. Cousins was in a zone, completely in charge, moving running backs and receivers into position prior to the snap, and delivering his passes with pinpoint accuracy, sometimes in the face of a ferocious pass rush. For one half of football, he was the best quarterback in the league. Let’s hope that they can figure out a way to weld that switch into the “clutch” position, and Cousins can be the brash, bling-borrowing, crazy sport coat-wearing, unstoppable force that will carry the Vikings into the playoffs and beyond.
When Greg Joseph nailed a 40-yard field goal with one second left in overtime, the Vikings were NFC North Champions for the first time since 2017. They not only had completed the greatest comeback in NFL history, but also had overcome a blocked punt and interception for touchdowns, two failed fourth down attempts, a phantom face mask call that erased a 35-yard punt return, and two horrible calls from the officials that took away two defensive touchdowns. The Vikings are now 10-0 in one-score games and trailed in the fourth quarter in seven of them. You can say what you want about the Vikings. The pundits talk about horseshoes, facing backup quarterbacks, soft schedules, and speculate that Minnesota is the worst 11-3 team in the league. The one thing that everyone should agree on is that this team has grit … and has learned how to win. They have each other’s backs and have totally bought into Kevin O’Connell’s leadership.
There are a lot of people who compare this victory to the Minneapolis Miracle. I am hoping that this is a more powerful and transformational victory. The Minneapolis Miracle was a moment, born of a single brilliant play (and a missed coverage by the Saints). Sunday’s game was an incredible team victory, filled with heroic, highlight-reel performances. Don’t forget what happened after the Minneapolis Miracle. The team came out flat, lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship, and was robbed of the chance to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium. This year’s Vikings team is a bit of an enigma. We never know what we are going to get, game by game, and even quarter by quarter. We know that the 2022 Vikings can beat anybody, and can also lose to anyone. Will Saturday’s record-setting comeback just be a notation in the record books, or a building block to something special?
There were tears after Saturday’s game … in the stands, from play-by-play announcer Paul Allen, and inside the locker room. Maybe it’s the close games, the near-death experiences, or perhaps it’s just that this team seems like a bunch of great guys, but Minnesota has let them into our hearts. For those of us who have endured the pain, anguish, and soul-crushing defeats from the ghosts of Vikings’ past, that’s a dangerous place for them to be. I don’t think those Amazon defibrillators can do anything to mend a broken heart.
Merry Christmas … and stay purple my friends.