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Vikings vs. Broncos Week 11: Five Game-Changing Plays

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Looking back at the most important plays from the thrilling 27-23 win over Denver.

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Denver Broncos v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The subheading of my preview article for the game between the Vikings and Broncos last Thursday:

Sunday’s game against Denver might be tough to watch at times, but all the Vikings need to do is get a win before the bye and a tough final stretch.

I had no idea that blurb would prove to be so prescient on Sunday afternoon.

The entire first half wasn’t just tough to watch—it was a waking nightmare for the Vikings and their fans. The Broncos kept making big plays and the Vikings kept shooting themselves in the foot. Specters of the Bills game from 2018 seemed to be floating about U.S. Bank Stadium for the first 30 minutes of the game. A week after the big road win in Dallas, the Vikings appeared to be getting exposed as frauds by a 3-6 team with a quarterback making his second career start. An all too familiar malaise fell over the crowd as they booed their team into the locker room.

But since Kirk Cousins and the Vikings have already spent a large portion of the 2019 season dispelling negative narratives, they crushed another one on Sunday: Cousins can’t lead his team to comeback wins. The assumption was that Cousins can only thrive when conditions are ideal. After a first half where the Vikings were out-gained by 170 yards, turned the ball over twice, and allowed three sacks, conditions were anything but ideal. Somehow, the Vikings fought back for their biggest comeback in 27 years and escaped with a win. Instead of stewing over an embarrassing loss for the next two weeks, the Vikings can enjoy the bye and get healthy with an impressive 8-3 record that seemed impossible after the first month of the season. Let’s take our weekly look at the five biggest plays that got us there.

Play 1: 1st & 10, Broncos ball at the Minnesota 17. Second quarter, 1:00 remaining. (Shotgun) B.Allen pass short middle intended for N.Fant INTERCEPTED by A.Sendejo at MIN 2. A.Sendejo to MIN 23 for 21 yards (D.Hamilton).

No matter how you slice it, the first half was an unmitigated disaster for the Vikings. But this play kept the chances of a second half comeback at “extremely unlikely” instead of “completely impossible.”

It isn’t too often that we skip over most of a half before getting to a game-changing play, but that was just how bad things were for the Vikings through the first two quarters. Bad was turning into much, much worse in the final few minutes of the half. Shelby Harris strip-sacked Cousins, which led to a field goal and a 20-0 Denver lead. Ameer Adbullah followed that up with the worst turnover in football—the “krumble.” A kick return fumble right after the opposing team just scored can be completely demoralizing. With a minute remaining, the Broncos had a golden opportunity to go up by 23 or 27.

Andrew Sendejo stopped the bleeding as he stepped in front of the Brandon Allen pass intended for DaeSean Hamilton. At the time, the interception kind of felt like a consolation prize at the end of the world’s worst game show. But with how the second half unfolded, Sendejo’s pick proved to be very important.

Play 2: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 46. Third quarter, 12:46 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep left to S.Diggs to DEN 10 for 44 yards (D.Harris).

If the Vikings were going to have any hope of making a monumental comeback, they were going to have to start the second half on a much better note. You may find this hard to believe, but it turns out that throwing the ball to Stefon Diggs is usually a good idea.

Diggs was shut out in the first half and was visibly upset about it, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic wrote about in his incredible piece on the mercurial wide receiver Sunday night. But Diggs was involved heavily in the second half comeback, starting with this play. After the Vikings narrowly converted a 4th and 1 from their own 45 with a Cousins quarterback sneak, they went no huddle to try and catch the Broncos off guard. It worked with this 44-yard strike to set up 1st & goal on the opening drive of the second half.

Two plays later, Cousins found Irv Smith Jr. for his first career touchdown and the Vikings finally had a pulse.

Unfortunately, the Vikings weren’t quite done with the self-inflicted wounds. It appeared that the defense had held the Broncos to a three and out on the following drive, but Eric Wilson was flagged for an offside penalty before the punt. Instead of giving the ball back, Denver was able to milk five minutes off clock and get another Brandon McManus field goal to increase their lead to 23-7. The Vikings were left with just over 19 minutes of game time to erase a 16-point deficit.

The Vikings’ second drive of the second half wasn’t always pretty, and it took longer than they had hoped for, but it still ended in points. They slogged through an 18-play, 75-yard march that featured:

  • A 4th & 1 conversion from their own 34, which was most certainly not a dumb call by Zimmer.
  • A 3rd & 14 conversion via Tyler Conklin’s first reception of the year right after a miscommunication led to an easy Dre’Mont Jones sack.
  • Duke Dawson bailing out the Vikings on 3rd & 10 with a pass interference penalty on Smith that was well short of the first down marker.
  • A 2-yard touchdown run by Dalvin Cook that was made easy by the hurry-up offense that the Vikings were implementing for most of the drive.

But the Broncos were ready for the run on the two-point conversion, which meant the Vikings were still down by two scores early in the fourth quarter. The Vikings defense desperately needed a quick stop, and they got it when Trae Waynes stopped Noah Fant on an end around.

The tired Broncos defense was forced back onto the field, and the Vikings offense took advantage much more quickly this time around.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 3rd & 2 at the Minnesota 46. Fourth quarter, 10:29 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep middle to S.Diggs for 54 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Again: throwing the ball to Stefon Diggs is usually a pretty good idea.

Once again going no-huddle, Cousins sold the play action to Cook and rolled to his left, a scenario where he has been deadly accurate this season. This play was no different, as he delivered a perfect deep ball to Diggs streaking down the middle of the field. Suddenly the Vikings were trailing by only three points with more than ten minutes remaining. Could they...actually pull this off?

Not if Courtland Sutton had anything to say about it. The Broncos wideout torched the Vikings secondary on Sunday, including this 42-yard connection against the oft-maligned Xavier Rhodes to get Denver in scoring range.

Denver had a golden opportunity to go back up by two scores and stave off Minnesota’s comeback efforts.

Play 4: Broncos ball, 3rd & 7 at the Minnesota 29. Fourth quarter, 8:56 remaining. (Shotgun) D.Booker right tackle to MIN 25 for 4 yards (I.Odenigbo).

You’re on the road with the chance at a huge upset. You’re clinging to a lead but you’re in scoring range. A touchdown here could put the game away and be a signature win in an otherwise disappointing season. And on 3rd & 7, you call...this.

Huge comebacks like the one we saw in Minneapolis on Sunday don’t happen very often because they usually require plays from both teams to facilitate the turnaround. With this perplexing play call, Vic Fangio and the Broncos were settling for three points instead of seizing the opportunity to step on their opponents’ throats. Their timidity was swiftly punished by the football gods as McManus’ 43-yard attempt sailed wide right.

It took just five plays for the Vikings to take their first lead of the game. On another play action right/bootleg left play, Cousins found Kyle Rudolph all by himself behind the defense for an easy 32-yard touchdown. The Vikings had come all the way back with six minutes to spare.

All they needed now was one final stop, which ended up giving us all one collective heart attack.

Incomplete pass. Jaleel Johnson sack. Now it’s 3rd & 13.

Let’s gooooo! We got this, defense!

Royce Freeman breaks Rhodes’ ankles and converts for the first down.

Dammit, Xavier! OK, they still have half the field to go. We’re fine.

Short run. Denver penalty. Sutton again, just short of the sticks. Another Denver penalty. Now it’s 4th & 6.

This is it! One more!

Allen to Fant for 11 yards. First down at the Vikings 34.

Oh c’mon.

Another short run. Two incomplete passes. Denver challenges and loses, but somehow they get two two-minute warnings. Whatever. Another 4th & 6.

Here we go. We got THIS one, right?

Allen to Tim Patrick just past the sticks.

So...um...

Phillip Lindsay for five yards. Shot to Patrick in the end zone, covered well by Waynes. Allen to Patrick again, but they’re short by a yard. Yet another fourth down. Only 33 seconds left. Denver’s out of timeouts.

I think I’m gonna pass out.

Allen converts on a read option. They’re down to the 4. Time’s ticking away. The Vikings call a timeout.

NOOOOOOO!!! Wait, what?! Why are WE stopping the clock?! Agggghhh!!

Allen to Patrick, broken up again by Waynes. Six seconds remaining.

[Unintelligible mumbling]

Allen takes another shot at the end zone, this time to Fant. Jayron Kearse breaks it up. Two seconds left.

[Silence, as my body is completely consumed by equal parts fear and excitement]

Play 5: Broncos ball, 3rd & goal at the Minnesota 4. Fourth quarter, 0:02 remaining. (Shotgun) B.Allen pass incomplete short right to N.Fant.

Final play of the game:

Kearse did it again! Incomplete! No flags! (Sure, Kearse had a handful of jersey, but only after Fant shoved him.) Game over! Vikings win!

[Faints]

Although the game almost certainly took a minimum of four years off our lives, it still ended in a thrilling comeback win. With the injuries to key players like Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, and Josh Kline, the bye couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Vikings. The fans could probably use the week off too.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.

Poll

What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Broncos?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Sendejo’s interception to keep it at 20-0 before half
    (447 votes)
  • 8%
    Cousins 44 yards to Diggs to set up the first score
    (118 votes)
  • 24%
    Cousins to Diggs 54-yard TD
    (334 votes)
  • 3%
    Broncos settling for a FG attempt
    (47 votes)
  • 28%
    Kearse’s defense on Fant on the final play
    (389 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (comment below)
    (13 votes)
1348 votes total Vote Now