The Minnesota Vikings have been playing heart attack football. While it may not be sustainable, they have provided a valuable lesson for the 2022 NFL season: Having elite players really, really matters.
On a whole, the Vikings are performing like a slightly above-average team, but when they get into crunch time situations they have a collection of players that can pull them out of sticky situations.
The Vikings were down 27-10 to the Buffalo Bills with 1:51 left in the third quarter Sunday on the road. Then, they simply did what every God-fearing "Madden" player does in a time of crisis: find your best players and spam plays for them.
Dalvin Cook ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run before Justin Jefferson put the team on his back for the fourth quarter and overtime. Jefferson caught five passes for 88 yards and drew a 19-yard pass interference penalty to move the chains on second-and-22.
Give head coach Kevin O’Connell credit for not shying away from drawing plays up for his best players when it’s obvious that those players are going to get the ball. It resulted in a stunning 33-30 overtime victory.
The Bills were a step above Minnesota most of the game, and it was playing out in a manner that suggested the Vikings’ doubters this season were right. Even with a 7-1 record on the season, the Vikings haven’t exactly been winning in convincing fashion like the Bills.
However, with a couple breaks and a top-heavy roster, the Vikings' stars pulled them back into the game. When it was time to make the plays to win, they did. It wasn’t totally luck, either, it was the value of being able to assemble talent that can make plays within the margins.
They ended up having so many incredible moments in the fourth quarter and overtime that Justin Jefferson’s one-handed catch with two minutes left in the game was a footnote by the time Patrick Peterson won the game on an overtime interception.
“There’s not a lot of scheme that you can go find in that moment,” Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said of Jefferson's jaw-dropping catch. “It was about a player and our quarterback, and the two of them behind good protection in a gotta-have-it moment, trying to just give him a chance to make a play. It happened right in front of me, one of the more remarkable catches I’ve ever seen. He’s such a special, special player.”
This Vikings team exists in a weird space. On one hand, they’re playing a brand of football that is hard to sustain. They've won seven straight one-score games and needed to rally from a 17-point deficit on Sunday. But this is a viable strategy for this season because of who they have on their roster.
They feel like this year’s “can’t keep getting away with it” team, but go tell that to Jefferson and every cornerback who has the misfortune of guarding him. The Vikings can win like this, and it appears that this is the type of game they’ll be playing for the rest of the season.
It’s good enough to be the best team in the NFC North and be in contention for the NFC's No. 1 seed. The Vikings have the juice this year, and as long as their top players stay healthy they can compete with any team in the league. Time will tell if they can go on a serious playoff run, but in the meantime their style of play has led to some extraordinarily entertaining football.