For those of you that have been long time fans of the Vikings, like I have, as last night's game went further and further into the evening, that feeling came over you, didn't it?
You know what I mean. Because if you don't, I'm not sure I believe you when you say you're a long time Vikings fan. Or that phrase, long time. You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Either way, when Mike Zimmer took over as the Vikings coach in 2014, they were known for a few things...and winning big games was not one of them. And quite frankly, they often embarrassed themselves when the spotlight shone bright on Minneapolis.
But over the last two years, the Vikings have undergone a prime time transformation under Mike Zimmer. Think how far they've come for a minute. Their first prime time game in the Zimmer era was the 42-10 Lambasting at Lambeau, back in week five of 2014. Christian Ponder had to start in place of an injured Teddy Bridgewater, and it was ugly, from the first snap. From there, it was the just-as-brutal Monday night opener at San Francisco. But the Vikes got a little better with each prime time game they were in, and in last year's regular season finale, a game flexed into the Sunday Night slot, the Vikings beat Green Bay at Lambeau and clinched the division.
So, was that game an anomaly, a trend...or dare we say a new normal for the Vikings in prime time?
Because last night was about as bright a stage as the Vikings have had under the third year head coach, and it was a heck of a test for a team that's already faced a ton of early season adversity. It was the grand opening of US Bank Stadium, with all the pomp and circumstance that goes with it. The Purple People Eaters were honorary captains, Bud Grant blew the gjallahorn, and the crowd was absolutely electric.
But as my DN colleague Eric Thompson said on Twitter earlier, it just didn't feel like it was going to be the Vikings night:
Literally, the tone seemed to be set on the Packers first play from scrimmage. Devante Adams fumbled after a quick screen pass, and Andrew Sendejo scooped it up inside the Green Bay 10. Only Randall Cobb made a heck of a play and stripped Sendejo, and the Packers had the ball and a new set of downs.
The Packers couldn't do anything, though, and punted. A struggling Vikings offense went three and out, and then Jeff Locke had a punt blocked, setting the Packers up at midfield. Two plays later, Terence Newman was flagged for the first of several costly pass interference penalties, and four plays after that the Packers were in the end zone and had a 7-0 lead. It was a sequence of events that in recent years would have snowballed on the Vikings, and caused them to unravel, lose focus, and eventually, usually in a heartbreaking manner, lose the game.
But there is something different with this team, under this coaching staff. They don't get rattled. Call it mental toughness (there you go Eric, are you happy?), grit, heart, resiliency...I don't really care what label you use, but the Vikings, as a team, seem to have this ever-elusive 'it' factor that past teams haven't had, going all the way back to the Bud Grant led Purple People Eaters of the '60's and '70's.
Because it wasn't just that opening sequence that the Vikes recovered from, oh no my friends. There were a litany of moments last night where I thought to myself 'here it comes'.
There were two other fumbles that the Vikings were painstakingly close to recovering, yet couldn't cover up. There were two sure handed interceptions that were dropped by Harrison Smith and Terence Newman. The last one was particularly brutal, as Aaron Rodgers threw it right at Newman, who was standing on the goal line, and would have ended a serious Green Bay scoring threat. It went right through his hands, a la Robert Griffith in the end zone of the 1998 NFC Championship game, and two plays later the Packers scored and it was a 17-14 game.
And finally, the Packers last drive felt like a script playing out the way we've seen it happen dozens of times before. 4:38 left, Packers need to go 90 yards. Aaron Rodgers finds Randall Cobb on 3rd and seven for 14 yards, out to the 26. Rodgers then breaks contain, and scrambles for 10 yards.
Tick...tick...tick. Just over three minutes left now, Packers out to the 36.
Rodgers then finds Randall Cobb for another 14 yards. First down. Ball at midfield, 2:33 left. It's happening. I can feel it in my guts. On the next play, Linval Joseph sacks Rodgers, four yard loss. Incomplete pass.
But this was just the raising of hope before the crushing reality struck. You knew it, I knew it.
3rd and 14. Here it is, here comes the gut punch.
I fully expected Rodgers to either scramble for 15 yards, or complete a pass for 17-18 yards, out of bounds, first down Packers. But no, Trae Waynes intercepts the ball, the offense runs out the clock, and the Vikings win.
And until the offense took the field, I was sure it would be overturned on review, of the Vikings would be called for a penalty that negated the play. But no! Trae Waynes babyt!
Trae. Waynes. The guy Aaron Rodgers had been picking on for the entire second half, the guy who had several costly penalties called on him in the second half...the guy who was so flustered and off his game that he was benched for a short period...stepped up when someone needed to step up and make a play.
I can almost guarantee that storybook ending doesn't happen before Mike Zimmer arrives. But on Sunday night, it did. Thanks to a brand new quarterback, a ferocious defense, and a great coach, a night that didn't feel like it was Minnesota's...was.