Vikings win in dramatic fashion — again! — topping Giants with another team effort – The Athletic
MINNEAPOLIS — This is the image of gratitude. This scene right here — with Greg Joseph twirling his finger, Kevin O’Connell screaming as if from the rooftops and Kirk Cousins hollering as if he’d just watched his buddy drain a 50-foot putt — embodies these 2022 Minnesota Vikings.
This team relishes these uneasy moments. The players and coaches embrace it when the game is on the line, and they celebrate when someone does what the team needs him to do to win.
Joseph, the kicker, was that someone Saturday against the Giants in the final regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium. After a brief timeout, he lined up the 61-yard field goal attempt, stepped back and to the left as is his routine and cleanly swung his foot through the ball, which sliced through the air toward the waiting goal post. The walk-off boot secured a 27-24 Minnesota victory.
GREG JOSEPH 61-YARD FIELD GOAL FOR THE WIN! @VIKINGS #NYGvsMIN pic.twitter.com/a7JwsbirRX
— NFL (@NFL) December 24, 2022
“You could feel it in the locker room,” O’Connell, the first-year coach, said afterward, “just how proud everyone was of Greg.”
Joseph’s teammates are aware of the way his season has played out. Those teammates witnessed the numerous missed extra points earlier in the campaign, and they empathized with the mental gymnastics required of the position. For a stretch, Joseph’s inconsistency raised external questions: Would he be able to right the ship? Should the Vikings search for another leg?
The Vikings brass could have moved on — just like the brass could have moved on from this core group of players. It did not. Instead, it infused new life and perspective and offered another opportunity.
“We’ve had a good core nucleus of guys on this team for a few years now,” Cousins said. “As I was looking at the season in August, I realized that a group is only together for so long. People move on. So, I kind of felt that this is a bit of a special group and that there was a time sensitivity here.”
In Joseph’s case, when times were tough, the Vikings stuck with him. Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels compared kicking footballs to playing golf. Joseph just needed to smooth out his swing, Daniels told him. The result, we now know, would be the longest kick Vikings supporters had ever seen.
The only apt way to describe the celebratory scene afterward for the team that now owns the record for most one-score wins in a season (11) is to steal from longtime golf announcer Dan Hicks: Expect anything different?
A double-doinked field goal miss sealed a Vikings win in London against the Saints. A last-second strip secured a Vikings win at home against the Bears. In Buffalo, Justin Jefferson snatched a football from the jaws of defeat to keep the game alive, only before a fumbled snap placed the Vikings in the driver’s seat. This 12-3 season is a montage of improbable successes, ranging from heroic to pure luck. Add Joseph’s winning, 61-yard kick to the list, and you start to wonder if Everest might be an attainable mountain for this team to climb.
“I’ve seen us grind so hard and so much,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “It’s just all coming to fruition.”
It’s not always pretty. In fact, there have been significant lulls in most of their games this year.
The Vikings offense only tallied 10 points in the first half of Saturday’s game. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones put up 188 passing yards in the second half. In the first quarter, punter Ryan Wright shanked a ball for a meager 28 yards.
But the Vikings are fortunate in that they have multiple advantages on their side, beginning with the most decorated young receiver in NFL history: Jefferson. His first catch of the day, a comeback route on the sideline, saw him break Randy Moss’ franchise record for receiving yards in a season. He then proceeded to will his team down the stretch.
The catch Cousins will remember is a quick out route on the right sideline, when he needed 4 yards for a first down. Jefferson hauled in the pass. Most receivers, Cousins believes, would avoid contact and exit the field of play. Jefferson, though, created contact and efforted his way past the first-down marker.
“His ability to get north, toe-tap and get the first — it’s so subtle,” Cousins said. “But I can’t tell you how many guys go out there. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a pretty good play right there.’”
The catch O’Connell will remember is a skinny post that started on the left sideline, when they needed 10 yards for a first down. Jefferson burst off the line of scrimmage. The cornerback shadowed him with inside leverage, hoping to eliminate him from moving over the middle of the field.
A safety clouded Jefferson over the top, essentially bracketing him in a finite amount of space. At the top of his route, Jefferson contorted his body, motioning to the corner of the end zone, but actually moving toward the middle of the field. Cousins drilled Jefferson in stride for a 17-yard touchdown.
Justin Jefferson again. What else can you say?
📺: #NYGvsMIN on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/AJ2krgfBrW pic.twitter.com/HkwURKP6MH
— NFL (@NFL) December 24, 2022
O’Connell met him on the sideline and patted his helmet.
“I told him, ‘It’s a pleasure and an honor to coach a player like you,’” O’Connell said. “He’s run a lot of great routes. But with the type of coverage he was facing and the detail in his ability to separate with a less-than-ideal look? I just love him to death. I just hope he knows. It’s never a bad thing to tell somebody you love them. That’s what my wife tells me.”
Others mentioned two of Jefferson’s catches on the Vikings’ game-winning drive, both of which happened on third down. On one of them, Jefferson looped around to catch a pass from Cousins, who got hit as he threw the ball. On the other, Jefferson nabbed a screen pass and nearly took it to the house.
His gravity always changes the way a defense operates. That he finished with 133 yards on 12 catches does not accurately capture what he does for the team.
Important to consider as an advantage, too, is the presence of T.J. Hockenson. The tight end notched a career-high 13 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns, including one over-the-top snag in the end zone that left both the crowd and teammates breathless.
HOCKENSON. What a grab!@Vikings take the lead!
📺: #NYGvsMIN on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/AJ2krgfBrW pic.twitter.com/CKHCls11me
— NFL (@NFL) December 24, 2022
“He’s not just running these normal tight end routes like the curls and the hitches,” Peterson said. “He’s running wheel routes and corner routes to get open. That’s what makes him different.”
It also helps that the Vikings have a knack for timely turnovers. On Saturday, Peterson and linebacker Brian Asamoah did the honors, snagging an interception and stripping a ball carrier, respectively.
And then there is the quarterback, Cousins, who continuously shows how capable he is of withstanding brutality. Cousins has been hit 125 times this season, more than any other NFL quarterback. All season, right tackle Brian O’Neill has kept Cousins’ toughness in mind.
“I hope everybody else is starting to see it,” O’Neill said.
In the end, playoff results will dictate how this season is remembered. Defensive issues still leave much to be desired. Spans of offensive struggles are still concerning, as well. Cementing the No. 2 seed will remain a challenging achievement over the final two weeks.
But there is something to be gleaned from the joyful twirl of Joseph’s finger, O’Connell’s emotions and Cousins’ hollering. It is gratitude for another chance to be together. Gratitude for a group that consistently shows how much it cares.
(Photo of Greg Joseph: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)
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