Yesterday, we took a look at half of the top 10 plays of the Vikings 2015 season, and it was a fun walk down memory lane. Let's continue our stroll, and wrap up the second half of this post with the last five plays that I considered to be the top ones of 2015.
Week 9, vs the St. Louis Rams. At the end of regulation in an 18-18 tie, the Vikes win the coin toss and head coach Mike Zimmer makes the decision to take the wind...and kick the ball.
Setting: This was the game that saw LaMarcus Joyner give Teddy Bridgewater a cheap ass late hit that knocked him out of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Vikings were not able to hold on to a three point lead, and after missing a 48 yard field goal with 1:45 left, the Shaun Hill led offense gave the ball back. The Rams converted, and Zeurlein tied the game up with less than 20 seconds remaining.
When I heard game announcer say that the Vikings won the toss for overtime and decided to kick, I had no idea what to make of the situation, to be honest. The wind was howling, true, but conventional wisdom says you always take the ball in overtime. But with Hill in, the only way the Vikings could move the ball was running it, so Zimmer gambled that the Vikings defense would hold the Rams to a three and out, and a punt into the wind would give the Vikings good field position and a short field. That's exactly what happened, as the Vikings started out on the 49. A 6 yard pass, and then four straight runs for 20 yards got the ball down to the Rams 22, and then Blair Walsh kicked his second straight game winning field goal.
Week 12, at Atlanta. Anthony Barr runs down RB Tevin Coleman, punches the ball out causing a fumble, and the Vikings recover.
Setting: At the time, this was the Vikings moment for a signature road win. After the good guys jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and with the Falcons already without RB Devonta Freeman, it was an opportunity for the Vikings to set the tone early and make a statement/signature road win. On the first play from scrimmage, Coleman went around right end, and had nothing but open field in front of him, with an early lead hanging in the balance.
And what literally looked like out of nowhere, LB Anthony Barr caught up with Coleman at about the 35 as he was cutting across the grain, and punched at the ball as was going for the tackle. Coleman kept running one way, the ball flew out and went another direction, and when the dust settled Antone Exum Jr had grabbed the ball and the Vikings had the ball at their own 21. From a purely physical standpoint, it was probably the most impressive individual play of the season, as a linebacker--linebacker, mind you--ran down and caught an NFL running back, in the open field, with at least a 15 yard head start. Incredible individual effort. Simply incredible.
Week 12, at Atlanta. Terence Newman intercepts Matt Ryan in the end zone.
Setting: Vikings take a 7-3 lead at halftime, and the Falcons take the second half kick and pretty drive straight down the field thanks to six straight Coleman runs. And as a seven minute drive is about to culminate in a TD, Newman steps in front of a Matt Ryan pass in the back corner of the end zone, killing the drive.
There was a time when a drive like this would kind of snowball on the Vikings, and a halftime lead turns into a quick third quarter reversal, which turns into a two score loss. But this interception by Newman, who like Chad Greenway had a Renaissance season of himself in many ways, spurred three straight scoring drives for the Vikings, and a tight 7-3 game turned into a 20-3 blowout. Only a late touchdown in garbage time score by the Falcons made the 20-10 score seem closer than it did.
Week 8 and 9. Blair Walsh kicks back to back game winners
Setting: As the pre-season and first regular season disaster in San Francisco kicked off, Blair Walsh started out as wild as Stevie Wonder on a pitching mound. But he settled down, zeroed in, and became the NFL's most productive kicker again...a couple wayward extra points aside.
Everyone was irritated with how the Vikings season ended, I get that. But you also need to understand this--without Walsh, the Vikings don't go 11-5 and win the division. Period. These two kicks, back to back game winners, were the difference between 11-5 and even having a shot to win a playoff game, and being 9-7 and having a 'moral victory' season at being over .500 but missing the playoffs. So no, the way the season ended blew chunks, but without Walsh, there's no home playoff game.
Week 17, at Green Bay. Captain Munnerlyn's 55 yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Setting: The Vikings find themselves in a winner take all for the NFC North title on the line, and have a 10 point lead as the third quarter is winding down. With Green Bay on Minnesota's 45, DE Everson Griffen flies off the end and hits Aaron Rodgers as he is preparing to throw the ball. Most everyone stops, as it looks to the naked eye as Rodgers' arm was moving forward. But the referees don't blow the whistle, and as the ball approaches the Vikings sideline, Munnerlyn scoops the ball up and starts streaking for the goal line.
As Rodgers is pancaked near the goal line as Munnerlyn scores, the Vikings suddenly have a 17 point lead. Against Green Bay. In Green Bay. They would go on to win 20-13 and the division for the first time since 2009. Because, you know, unlike Arizona and Detroit, the Vikings know how to play defense against a Hail Mary. It was kind of a weird, quirky play that toppled the Packers reign atop the NFC North, and it was the final regular season step in a long journey of redemption. The fact that it came against the Packers, on the road, was an exclamation point, and in a lot of ways that play was the Vikings season in a nutshell.
How so, you ask? The 2015 Minnesota Vikings were an opportunistic team, taking advantage of other teams mistakes, and making the most of the chances they had. They played well disciplined football, if at times uninspiring on offense, yet when opportunity smiled on them, they took advantage of it.
The way the season ended left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but the way the season unfolded was of a team shedding the old, tired cliches we were sick of hearing and talking about. Instead, we look forward to watching a good, young, disciplined football team as they move forward from what they started in 2015.
Personally, I can't wait.