In what might be the most exciting regular-season game of the 2022 season, the Minnesota Vikings eked out a three-point win against the Buffalo Bills 33-30.
The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills Stuffed Highlight Reels
As the best first-drive team in the NFL, the Vikings were able to cinch up another touchdown on their first possession after forcing a Bills three-and-out. But the Bills immediately responded with explosive runs – often lacking from their running back group this year – and impressive throws.
From there, the Vikings fell behind multiple scores and couldn’t get within one score until the fourth quarter, a normal occurrence for a team bugged by questions about their ability to play dominantly enough to be considered a threat in the NFL.
In the intermediate period between the Bills taking the lead and the Vikings bouncing back, we saw some of the most impressive individual plays the NFL has to offer – on both sides of the ball. Christian Benford’s 35-yard interception return in the first quarter rivaled Patrick Peterson’s 39-yard interception from the red zone in the fourth quarter.
Dane Jackson added to the game’s turnover total with a third-quarter snag on an overthrow as the intended receiver, K.J. Osborn, fell to the ground – nearly a dagger that in most situations, for most teams, would have ended the game.
Instead, it was Peterson who would end the game on another pick in overtime after the Vikings had generated a lead on a field goal following a 60-yard drive.
Those interceptions aren’t likely to be what most fans remember from the game. Dalvin Cook’s 81-yard touchdown run will be easy to remember for most fans, even though it “only” improved the Vikings’ winning odds from two percent to seven percent – the only play of a drive that took the Vikings from 10 points to 17 points. They still faced a 10-point deficit heading into the final frame of the game.
It could have been the case that Vikings fans would be traumatized by the stellar performance that Stefon Diggs put together. 12 catches for 128 yards, some of them more the stuff of imagination than reality, could have felt like some sort of cruel circle-of-life of Vikings misery, embarrassed by the ghosts of their past more than invigorated by the heroes of their future.
But most Vikings fans won’t remember Diggs’ performance. His replacement on the Vikings put up the most productive receiving game of any receiver this season – Justin Jefferson finished with 193 yards on ten catches, and he’ll find one of his late fourth-quarter grabs on highlight reels for decades to come.
JUSTIN JEFFERSON WITH A CATCH OF THE CENTURY CANDIDATE 🏆pic.twitter.com/BXn1HxKPW8
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 13, 2022
The Minnesota Vikings Made a Statement
This is a statement game for the Vikings in many ways. Of course, on paper, it moves the Vikings to 8-1 with the second-best record in the NFL. On top of that, they did it against a team considered elite by the NFL consensus – one deep enough to field bench players at multiple positions on offense and defense that could start for other teams. The result is an offense and defense that both could be considered top-three in the NFL.
But it also changes the atmosphere surrounding the conversation about the team. Dogged with questions about sustainable play – and fairly so – the Vikings have come out of every week facing battles of their own creation, having to dig themselves out of holes against inferior teams in the most unlikely of ways, whether that’s multiple games secured by special teams turnovers late in the game or the lucky accident of playing a backup quarterback for several of their games this year.
Those fluky events continued into the Bills game, with the most impactful such moment coming after a fumbled snap in the end zone, recovered by Eric Kendricks for a defensive touchdown. That defensive touchdown put the Vikings ahead and forced the Bills to play catchup for the first time since their second drive. Had the Bills gained a single yard, they probably would have won the game.
The Bills were instead put into a position to lead a comeback drive and force overtime, but at that point, the Vikings had already proved to 95 percent of the NFL-watching audience that they belonged.
It would be ridiculous to talk about Josh Allen’s elbow injury or how it may have impacted his second-half performance or whether a game filled with turnovers should inform our understanding of general team strength.
The other five percent are cynical sports writers and bettors. And while it’s important to break down why an 8-1 team with a major win can do it going forward, it’s difficult to continuously have this discussion following a seven-game win streak.
Are the Buffalo Bills Worth a More Critical Eye?
Maybe it’s tiring to constantly have that discussion – and maybe the Bills deserve to have this critical eye instead. On paper, they have one of the best teams in the league.
But the results have been inconsistent and maddening – a team that can’t seem to finish in the red zone and is reliant on big-play performances or hero-ball from their MVP candidate quarterback that just dropped consecutive games to alleged paper tigers like the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.
The Bills fell apart in a big way, with big misses from their star quarterback playing a central role in their multiple-score collapse. At 6-3, the Bills left the game tied for second in the AFC East standings and are hardly guaranteed home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
At some level, it feels as if the “truth” of each team is more that the Vikings are a dark, chaotic mess that manages to pull out victories against all odds while the Bills are a flawed golden child who stumbles their way into occasional losses.
Maybe these false truths will matter in the playoffs, but for now, it’s the chaos that counts.