Just before the two-minute warning in Sunday afternoon's game in Tampa, fans of the Minnesota Vikings got to see a familiar sight. A game that they, by most accounts, had dominated through the first three quarters, slipping through their grasp in the waning moments against a team that they hadn't beaten in over a decade in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings had taken a 10-0 lead into the final quarter of play, but the Buccaneers clawed their way back into the game with a couple of field goals before Mike Glennon found Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a seven-yard touchdown pass to make the score 13-10.
I felt it. You felt it. Everyone in the Game Thread felt it. Everyone on the Twitter felt it. The Vikings were going to put together another come-from-ahead loss to throw away what was, largely, a very good defensive performance, much like they did last week against the Buffalo Bills, and much like they had many times in the past. Honestly, no other fan base in the National Football League, and quite possibly in all of professional sports, does impending doom quite the way Vikings fans do.
But then, a funny thing happened.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had received better protection in this game than he had in weeks, put together a very nice drive. He found Cordarrelle Patterson for 12 yards, and then found Greg Jennings for 10 more. He followed that up with a 17-yard toss to Jarius Wright, and then on a big 3rd-and-7 from the Tampa Bay 31-yard line, he rifled one to Chase Ford for 19 yards. That gave Blair Walsh a much easier field goal opportunity, and he knocked it through from 38 yards to tie the game at 13 and send it to overtime.
Naturally, the Buccaneers won the overtime coin toss, because really. . .why wouldn't they? And a defense that had allowed three consecutive scoring drives to finish regulation had to go out and stop the Buccaneers' offense once again.
On the first offensive play of overtime, Glennon connected with Seferian-Jenkins again, and he had Anthony Barr in hot pursuit. Barr loosened the ball from the rookie tight end's grip, and Harrison Smith laid a shoulder into him to help knock it loose. Barr picked it up, ran 26 yards into the end zone and. . .after further review. . .the Vikings escaped from Tampa Bay with a victory in the kind of game that they lose more often than not. Just 17 seconds into overtime, it was the second-fastest overtime victory in regular season NFL history, bettered only by a 2002 game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills that was won via a touchdown return on the opening kickoff of overtime that was won in 14 seconds.
The Minnesota defense played another very solid football game, as they held the Buccaneers to just 225 yards of total offense. At one point during the game, they forced the Buccaneers into five consecutive three-and-outs, and allowed Tampa Bay to convert just one of twelve third-down opportunities. It took until the fourth quarter of play for the Buccaneers to cross the Minnesota 45-yard line, and the defense got to Mike Glennon five times. Everson Griffen had another huge game on defense, and the team also got sacks from Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison, Tom Johnson (who is second on the team in sacks), and one from Barr as well.
The offense is. . .well, it's a work in progress, to put it delicately. Bridgewater looked good for most of the game, though he did have a couple of questionable throws. More importantly, he was only sacked once on the afternoon, and got enough time to complete 24-of-42 passes for 241 yards and an outstanding touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the third quarter. Running back Jerick McKinnon continued to be productive, averaging 5.2 yards/carry again (16 carries, 83 yards), and seemed to be making a lot of things happened when he got his hands on the ball. (Despite that, the Vikings insisted on using Matt Asiata towards the end of the game, which is just mind-boggling.) Six different players caught at least two passes from Bridgewater on the afternoon, and I can't recall any truly egregious drops or anything along those lines.
It was important for this team to win this game, and the way they won it will have even more impact. If last week was a learning experience for this group, a game like this might be the sort of performance that helps them turn a corner. This was a game that saw them in the driver's seat for much of the contest and one that they could have, ultimately, let get away from them. But, rather than letting that happen, this team fought their way through it and came out with a victory that, while not exactly a work of art, is the kind of victory that's important for the psyche of a young football team.
The Vikings have a chance to build a little momentum, as next week they will host the Washington Redskins, followed by their bye week and a trip to face a Chicago team that appears to be in full meltdown mode before a rematch with Green Bay at TCF Bank Stadium. If this team manages to salvage anything out of this season, they'll look back at this weekend's contest as the point that it all started.
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