How the Vikings Engineered the Greatest Comeback in NFL History Against the Colts

The Minnesota Vikings engineered the greatest comeback in NFL history to beat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime. Here's how it happened.

The Minnesota Vikings engineered the greatest comeback in NFL history to beat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in the final seconds of overtime. In keeping in fashion with the Vikings’ overall season, this puts them at 10-0 in one-score games and clinches the division.

Prior to this game, the greatest comeback by points in NFL history belonged to a Buffalo Bills team captained by Frank Reich at quarterback. On Jan. 3, 1993, the Houston Oilers jumped out to a 35-3 lead. The Bills came back to win 41-38.

This playoff comeback was so iconic that it’s referred to simply as The Comeback. 29 years and 11 months later, the team that started out the season coached by Frank Reich forced him to lose his job, then his record.

More consistently, Matt Ryan has now led teams in the biggest choke in Super Bowl history and regular season history, after his 28-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI has become essential NFL lore.

Vikings Added Another Exciting Comeback to Their Résumé Against Colts

The Vikings have played in some of the most exciting games in NFL history, two of them in the 2022 season. Between their comeback against the Buffalo Bills – the greatest comeback from a win probability perspective in NFL history – and their win over the Colts, the greatest comeback from a points perspective in NFL history, it’s tough to get a handle on who the Vikings are besides “exciting”

The Colts, who have now given up 55 points in their last two fourth quarters, have engineered some of the biggest collapses we’ve seen – which could be a referendum on their interim coach Jeff Saturday. Up 33 points entering the third quarter, the Colts themselves scored just three more and saw the Vikings put up 36.

That 33-point lead deserves enough attention on its own but the follow-up almost renders it immemorable. The Colts were struggling on their opening drive, losing yardage on first and second down but converting their third downs. They managed this cycle until they got into the red zone and were unable to do anything with it, producing a field goal instead.

The Vikings response drive was a three-and-out, but their punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Following that, the Vikings could have made good on their reputation for scripted drives after cracking open a 40-yard Dalvin Cook run. It was followed up with a fumble from Cook, which resulted in a Colts response drive for a touchdown.

A Vikings drive that started with six minutes left to go in the second quarter serves as a microcosm of the first half. It started deep in their own territory after a holding penalty on the punt return backed them up to their own five-yard line. Then, a false start pushed the further back and close to their own goal line.

Then, they targeted Justin Jefferson for a reasonable gain on first down and then saw him take a big hit on second down on an incompletion. As he recovered from injury on the sideline, Cousins threw behind Jalen Reagor on third down, leading a pick-six that put the Colts up 30-0.

33 points are the most the Vikings have ever given up by halftime at home and the third-most they’ve ever given up, with a 2002 game at Seattle and their NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants – famously known as 41-donut – in 2000 as the only worse first-half performances.

In the second half, the Vikings played well enough to produce more than just the greatest comeback in NFL history. We almost didn’t get to see the results of that after a cavalcade of poor officiating almost took Minnesota out of the game. Multiple returns for touchdowns were overturned with incorrect rulings and additional long returns were taken away for soft penalties.

The Vikings Paid Off Their Karmic Debt

In many ways, the Vikings’ string of good luck this season was paid back to them — with interest — in this game. Instead of regressing to average performances with average luck, the Vikings were the victims of bad bounces, bad calls, and questionable circumstances throughout the game. Instead of turning this into a cautionary tale about believing in frauds, the Vikings tuned in an emphatic performance for a win.

Last year’s breakout player, K.J. Osborn, had been having a quiet season. He showed up in a big way in this game, putting up 157 yards on ten receptions. Dalvin Cook also had an incredible game, breaking out of his four-game slump to reach 95 yards each in rushing and receiving – a 190-yard performance that seems somehow secondary to what Osborn did.

And Jefferson himself showed up big. In the race for the receiving crown and eyeing 2,000 total receiving yards, Jefferson needed 500 total yards in his final four games – 125 a game – to take that milestone. In this game, he earned 123 putting almost right on pace.

None of that would have been possible without a gritty performance from Kirk Cousins. He threw for 460 yards on 54 attempts, or 8.54 yards per passing attempt, and threw four touchdowns. He also has two interceptions to his name, though one was almost certainly not his fault and the other was questionably his. Both were to backup receiver Jalen Reagor – in the game because of injuries to Jefferson – and both looked like miscommunications.

If someone wanted to discount those picks because of who was at fault and the outcome of the game, that’s fine – though Cousins threw interceptable passes later that were dropped. For just one element, interceptions, it looks like the Vikings were karmically even.

Nevertheless, Cousins came up big late in the game, helped in part by the Colts’ proclivity for mistakes. Penalties, fumbles, and unforced errors gave the Vikings the ball back a few more times than necessary, and the Vikings, to their credit, took advantage of some of those opportunities.

The Colts Cratered

On the Colts’ end, they lost some of their juice when Jonathan Taylor was ruled out with an ankle injury. Initially, an afterthought as the Colts pushed to 20-0 at the time, the loss turned out to be crucial late in the game when they needed crucial runs to drain the clock.

Instead, Zack Moss and Deon Jackson were asked to carry the load. Not only did they have trouble finding space, but they also lost control of the ball, each fumbling once and losing those fumbles.

They needed to lean on their other stars, but they don’t have anyone on offense with the same reliability that Taylor had, meaning that Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce, perhaps the most talented skill players after Taylor, needed to come up big. While both had extraordinary plays in the second half, they were few and far between.

A bigger problem might have been Matt Ryan. Not tasked with much responsibility in the first half, Ryan’s contributions were largely limited to easy pitch-and-catches or the occasional third-and-long, where he generally answered the call. But as the game progressed, the pressure was too much and he faltered.

He finished the game with just 5.52 yards per attempt, and the interior pressure – largely a product of right guard Will Fries and center Ryan Kelly – diminished his effectiveness. Danielle Hunter got to Ryan twice, splitting his second sack with Za’Darius Smith in overtime. Eric Kendricks also earned a sack, meaning that Ryan is still, bafflingly, in the hunt for being the most-sacked quarterback in 2022 despite missing three games.

The entire Vikings’ defensive line found ways to get to the quarterback and finished the game with seven quarterback hits, with four coming from Hunter. Not only that, they penetrated the backfield on running plays and Kendricks earned four tackles for loss to go with his sack. The fact that the second-place player in combined tackles was nose tackle Harrison Phillips speaks volumes about the run blocking capability the Colts were able to put together.

The Colts’ defense did have some players with more complete games but there were still a number of players who only showed up in the first half. With questions about their pass rush all season, it must have been gratifying to see Dayo Odeyingbo get to the quarterback for two sacks or for the defense overall to rack up 11 total quarterback hits to go with their eight total tackles for loss.

But though a number of Colts could find ways to impact the pocket, only star DeForest Buckner could do it consistently throughout the game. Stephon Gilmore, another key defensive player, couldn’t be as consistent as Buckner. He helped lock down Jefferson early, and the Vikings’ young phenom was left with just 17 yards to close out the first half.

Gilmore could not keep it up.

Vikings Can Silence Doubters While Colts Hear Them Get Louder

At the end of the day, this one-score game for the Vikings means substantially less than many of their other ones. Instead of this being a judgment on their inability to close out games they generate leads in or a case where their offense and defense worked at odds with each other, this turned out to be an example where the opponents went up at the half for unrepeatable reasons and the Vikings persevering throughout to come out with a win.

As for the Colts, it’s just another reason to question Saturday’s appointment as a head coach, especially now that his lone win this season looks smaller in the rearview mirror. It turned out to be a tough Saturday for Saturday.

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