Coming into the 2015 season, the Minnesota Vikings had a lot to prove, both to her diehard fans and doubters. We've covered those in detail periodically throughout the season, so we're not going to re-hash it in depth again, but there were some glaring omissions on the Vikings resume heading into 2015. Some of the things that were keeping them from being considered something more than a 'good' football team, were:
- Winning on the road, specifically at Chicago
- Winning in the division
- Get to the playoffs
- Beat Green Bay
In 2015, the Vikings were able to accomplish a lot, to include winning the NFC North for the first time since 2009. And in each step forward, there was a play, or maybe a series of plays, that helped the Vikings get over the hump, as it were, and take a big step forward. Let's take a look at those plays, and analyze why it was such a huge moment in time. I thought about rank ordering them, but I ultimately chose not to. Each one was significant on it's own, and it was difficult for me to say which play was more important than the next, so I'm going to go in chronological order. If you'd like, feel free to rank order them, or if there's a play that's not on the list that you think should be there, let us know in the comments.
So with that in mind, let's get to it.
Week 3, vs San Diego: Chad Greenway 91 yard interception return for a TD.
Setting: Early 4th quarter. Vikings lead 24-7, but Chargers are driving. A TD makes it a two score game, the Chargers seize momentum, and a 1-2 start is a real possibility.
I don't know if there's been a good player more pilloried than Greenway was between the end of the 2014 season until the beginning of the 2015 season. And hey, I'm just as guilty as the next person in that regard. But head coach Mike Zimmer liked what he saw with Greenway as a player and team leader, and Zimmer's decision was vindicated here. Greenway picked off Philip Rivers at the Vikings 11, then headed right and turned upfield...with a convoy of blockers in front of him, and no Chargers in sight. CB Captain Munnerlyn started celebrating with Greenway somewhere around the 30, and it was the defining moment for Greenway in a Renaissance of a season. From a sentimental standpoint, it was probably my favorite play of the year, but that's just me.
Week 4, at Denver: Adrian Peterson 48 yard touchdown run.
Setting: 10 minutes remain in the game and the Vikings find themselves struggling offensively, and down 10 points. Peterson's run leads to a comeback that sees the Vikings tie Denver with a chance to win the game late.
The drive that culminated in this score was arguably the most impressive TD drive the Vikings put together in 2015. Starting at their own 3, with an offensive line that struggled to pass protect and run block all day, the Vikings methodically got to the Denver 48 in 8 plays, using up over five minutes of clock. They really needed a score to get back into the game and have enough time left for another drive. Peterson's run was like a lightning bolt and got the Vikings within three points. Two play later Harrison Smith picked off Peyton Manning, and after another eight play drive, they tied the game up with a Blair Walsh field goal. For me, it was kind of a turning point for this team in 2015, as it showed a resiliency in a hostile road environment we hadn't seen a lot in recent years. Even though they lost late, I came out of that game feeling that the Vikings could play and beat anyone in the NFL.
Week 7, at Detroit: Stefon Diggs 36 yard touchdown reception
Setting: The Vikings come out against the 1-6 Lions and get punched in the mouth, going down 14-3 at the end of the first quarter. They stabilize on defense, and the offense is moving but struggling to put the ball in the end zone. Until Diggs makes a highlight reel, diving catch to give the Vikings a lead they will not relinquish.
The rookie WR burst on to the scene in week three at Denver, had another big game against Kansas City one week later, and caught his first TD while grabbing 6 passes for 108 yards against the Lions. A loss here against the lowly Lions would have really been a 'two steps back' moment for the Vikings, as it was a road divisional game. But Diggs' acrobatic score gave them the lead for good, and helped Minnesota move to 4-2 on the season. It was also a big road win within the division, one that turned out to be crucial as they headed to a season finale showdown against Green Bay for the division title.
Week 8, at Chicago: Stefon Diggs 40 yard catch and run TD.
Setting: Once again, it looks like the Vikings are going to bumble and stumble in the Windy City, and lose to a team they should beat. They've struggled the entire game, yet still find themselves down only 7 at the 2:00 warning while managing to score zero offensive TD's in the game. Bridgewater finds Diggs along the right sideline for what looks to be a 10-15 yard gain, yet he makes his man miss, and is gone. 40 yards later, the game is tied.
From his debut in Denver through this game, Diggs just seemed to get better and better, and by the time this game was over, his name was on the short list for rookie of the year. This was a seminal moment for both Diggs and the Vikings, as they once again overcame a fourth quarter deficit on the road, and by 'the road' I specifically mean Chicago. But there was still 1:50 to go, the Bears were getting the ball, and all they needed was a field goal from sure footed Robbie Gould to drive the stake into the heart of the Vikings one more time. Only...
Week 8, at Chicago: Charles Johnson 35 yard jump ball reception to set up a potential game winning field goal.
Setting: ...The Vikings defense, which had played well for most of the day, bowed up and the Bears went three and out. After the change of possession, the Vikings had the ball at their own 34, with one minute left, and all three timeouts. All they needed was a big play.
Which they got from Charles Johnson, who's 35 yard 'oh no TeddyWHYDIDYOUTHROWTHATNOOOOOOOOIMEANWOOOOOOOOOOOO' jump ball reception over Tracy (FUCK THAT GUY) Porter got the Vikings down to the Bears 27. It was by far Johnson's biggest play of the season, as he only had 127 yards total receiving yards in a very disappointing 2015, and after a 9 yard run by Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh nailed a game winning 36 yard field goal as time expired. And finally, for the first time since 2007, the Vikings had a win in Soldier Field.
We'll get to part 2 tomorrow. Thanks for reading.