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Turning Point

At what point did you realize the Vikings were on the brink of 13-3, with the potential for so much more?

Minnesota Vikings v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

In every season (turn turn turn) there’s either a point that it all goes wrong, or a point where it all comes together. For the Minnesota Vikings in recent seasons it’s been a ‘oh yeah, this is where it all went to Hell’ moment more often than not.

But not this year, though. This year, for me, there was one moment, well actually one drive, that made me think ‘this team is different, and we might be on to something here.’

The Vikings started off an encouraging 7-2, but of those first nine games, most were against lesser opponents, and five of them were were at home. After a trip to England and a win against the hapless Cleveland Browns, a five game stretch loomed that would make or break their season. Four of those games would be on the road, and the lone home game during that stretch was against the suddenly dangerous Los Angeles Rams.

The first game was against the Washington Redskins, and it provided the turning point for the season. The Redskins jumped out to an early lead, and held a 10-7 lead as the first quarter ended. The Vikings offense took control though, and they had amassed a 35-20 lead through three quarters.

As the fourth quarter opened, the Vikings had the ball after a Case Keenum pick with the Redskins turning it over on downs on the ensuing drive. Washington still had a little bit of momentum, as as a result of a field goal and then the Keenum interception. But it seemed like Minnesota had stopped Washington, and were getting ready to put the game out of reach. Then Keenum threw his second interception of the day, and the ball was returned down to the Vikes two yard line.

Two plays later Cousins was in the end zone on a QB keeper, and what had once been a 35-17 lead was now 35-27 with 14 minutes to go and momentum fully with Washington. The TV announcers even mentioned that newly activated Teddy Bridgewater was warming up, and Keenum might get yanked.

In short, it was plenty of time for the Vikings to implode and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as they have done so many times in the past.

But not this time. This time, on the road, in a hostile environment, with everything going against them the Minnesota Vikings offense found their composure and put the game on ice, and then the defense slammed the door.

They went on a methodical 13 play, 40 yard drive (wait what only 40 yards??) that chewed up over half of the remaining time left in the game. They converted three huge third downs, none bigger than the last one. On the play, WR Adam Thielen caught a Keenum pass short of the first down, and Redskins CB Josh Norman had him in his sites. But Thielen sidestepped Norman, lunged past the marker, and got the first down. The next three plays ran another 1:20 off the clock, and Kai Forbath ended the drive by nailing his most impressive field goal of the year, a 53 yarder off the cow pasture grass turf that is Fed Ex Field.

It was now an 11 point game with seven minutes and change left, and on the next drive the Vikings stuffed the Redskins for a four yard loss on a 4th and one call, and the game was essentially over.

It was an impressive performance, for a couple reasons. In it, both the offense and defense struggled at times, and it was far from the team’s best overall performance. But when one unit was struggling, they were picked up by the other. When each unit had to come through, they did.

And most importantly, when they were faced with some adversity, they embraced the moment and overcame it. Then they went out and epitaphed Washington’s season by dropping them to one game under .500.

A lot of people like to point to the Bears game on Monday Night as the turning point, and I can understand why. They struggled but won a game where wins have been more rare than a Jameis Winston eating a W, and you could also argue that was the game where this became Case Keenum’s team. As important as that win was, I thought it was too early in the season, and there would be much tougher tests to overcome.

And the Redskins game, for me, was just that—a bigger test, later in the season, against a better team playing for their post season lives. The Redskins win put the Vikings at 8-2, and set them up for the rest of that gauntlet to open the second half. They ended up going 4-1 in that stretch, and essentially put the number two seed on ice for the post season.

In 1998, Randy Moss’ deflowering of Green Bay at Lambeau on Monday Night in the rain was That Moment. In 2009, it was Favre to Lewis. When I look back on this season, that drive against Washington will always be the moment I look at and go ‘yeah, that’s The Moment. Right there.’