Well, we don’t have the Vikings to kick around this week. But, boy, was it close. That’s the NFL. Even the best teams are going to have to steal a few wins here and there.
A team like this one, three games into a new season with a new coaching staff? We’re going to watch more nail-biters like the Vikings’ 28-24, come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It was a good learning game,” veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We got hit in the mouth a lot. We weren’t perfect, but we’re going to be better going forward.”
As noted, it looked bleak, especially after Detroit drove into Vikings territory with a 24-21 lead and the clock winding down under 4 minutes to play. The Lions needed to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 30 to, for all intents and purposes, close the game out. Detroit already was 4 for 5 on fourth-down conversions and fans were getting not just anxious but testy, a shouting match breaking out in the stands just beneath the press box.
The Vikings just kept playing.
“That’s what our job is,” defensive end Danielle Hunter said. “Things ain’t always gonna go our way. Adversity’s always going to strike; it’s all about how you respond. So, you’ve got to keep chopping wood.”
On fourth down, Lions halfback Jamaal Williams ran off tackle right and immediately ran into trouble in the form of Hunter and Kendricks.
“Oh, we knew they were gonna run it, man,” Hunter said. “Fourth-and-1, it has run written all over it. Everyone just had to be in their gaps.”
They were. Williams was stood up for no gain, and the Vikings had life again. Yet, still it looked bleak when on the Vikings’ ensuing drive, quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Adam Thielen couldn’t connect on fourth-and-8 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left, giving Detroit the ball back at the Vikings’ 47-yard line.
Game over, right? Here we go again.
“I didn’t even really think about it, to be honest,” said Thielen, who had a good case for interference on the play. Instead of stewing, he looked ahead.
“Throughout a game, you can do two things when you get back to the sideline: You can look back at plays you could have done a better job on, and get frustrated, or you can move on and try to be prepared for the next series,” he said.
Good call, because when Detroit place-kicker Austin Seibert missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt, the Vikings had one last chance from their own 44 with 1:10 left. It took them exactly 20 seconds to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 28-yard pass from Cousins to K.J. Osborn.
Thielen was open on the play, but Osborn was too — and closer to the end zone. He trotted in untouched and the Vikings had their first lead of the game, 28-24, after Greg Joseph’s extra-point kick.
The two completed passes — both to Osborn, both for 28 yards — were, head coach Kevin O’Connell acknowledged, “quite honestly … not on the call sheet. But we found a way to go out there with all 11 (players) and execute.”
“You could kind of feel in the huddle, with that momentum shift, ‘Hey, we’re going to do something here,’ ” Thielen said. “ ‘I don’t know how it’s going to shake out, but we’re going to do something here.’ ”
It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a good win. An important win, particularly for a team still finding its legs. There’s a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2, and it’s a lot better to learn from mistakes made during a win than a loss. And lest we forget, the Vikings lost a game just like this last season at Ford Field.
No, we don’t have the Vikings to kick around this week. A win, against any team by any means, was required to rinse the taste of last Monday’s 24-7 loss at Philadelphia’s from everyone’s mouth.
It wasn’t pretty, but it’ll do.
“There’s a lot of things we’ll do better,” O’Connell said.
After a win like that one, even against the eternally struggling Lions, it’s much, much easier to believe him.