The Minnesota Vikings may be known for losing in all four of their Super Bowl appearances. But they have also played in some of the most famous games in league history, including on Saturday, when they roared back from a record 33-point deficit in the second half to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 39-36, in overtime.
The Vikings surpassed the previous record comeback set by the Buffalo Bills in 1993, who overcame a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in overtime.
The Vikings, who clinched the N.F.C. North with the victory, secured the win when kicker Greg Joseph’s 40-yard field goal split the uprights with seconds remaining in overtime. The Vikings (11-3) have now won 10 of their games by one score, and none in more dramatic fashion than on Saturday.
The Indianapolis-Minnesota showdown was supposed to be the sleepiest of the three N.F.L. games on Saturday, with the teams six wins apart in the standings. But the frantic finish was another reminder that even seemingly irrelevant games in the country’s most popular league can produce some of the most compelling results.
It may be a cliché, but the game was really two games. The Colts (4-9-1), who have endured coaching and quarterback turmoil all season, looked like a playoff-bound team in the first half. They returned one blocked punt for a touchdown and returned an interception for another score. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Deon Jackson as well.
Heading into halftime, the Vikings looked like they were going to absorb their second blowout loss in their past five games.
Vikings Coach Kevin O’Connell said that at halftime, cornerback Patrick Peterson said, “All we need is five touchdowns.”
The Vikings did that with a formula that has worked all season: Let quarterback Kirk Cousins throw the ball. About midway through the third quarter, Cousins hit receiver K.J. Osborn for a 2-yard score for the Vikings’ first points. After the Colts added a field goal to push their lead to 36-7, the Vikings added another touchdown on a 1-yard run by C.J. Ham with just over a minute remaining in the quarter.
The Colts’ offense repeatedly stalled, allowing Cousins and the Vikings time to keep chipping away at their deficit. Cousins threw an 8-yard score to receiver Justin Jefferson — the league’s leading receiver — early in the fourth quarter to narrow the gap to 36-21 after the extra point.
Cousins was intercepted, but the Colts could not convert the turnover into points. The Vikings came back yet again when Cousins threw a 1-yard pass to receiver Adam Thielen to narrow the Colts’ lead to 8 points after another successful extra point.
On the following drive, the Vikings appeared to tie the game when cornerback Chandon Sullivan snagged a fumble and ran into the end zone. But the officials had ruled that the runner was down by contact. Though a review showed that the runner had fumbled the ball and Sullivan had recovered it, Minnesota was not awarded the touchdown. The Vikings took over, but their drive stalled.
The Colts seemed in good position to run out the clock, but Ryan failed to convert a quarterback sneak on fourth down, giving the Vikings another shot with just over two minutes remaining.
“We would have closed the game out and ended the game,” Colts Coach Jeff Saturday said after the game. “I’m in. Everybody’s in. We didn’t convert.”
Ryan’s inability to grab a first down was reminiscent of Super Bowl LI, when he and the Falcons failed to convert a first down that allowed the New England Patriots to erase a 28-3 deficit, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.
After the Vikings took over with just over two minutes remaining, running back Dalvin Cook sprinted 64 yards for a score. Cousins then hit tight end T.J. Hockenson for a two-point conversion to tie the game. In all, Cousins was 34 for 54 for 460 yards, with 417 yards accumulated after halftime.
It wasn’t quite the “Minneapolis Miracle” — when the Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints on a Stefon Diggs touchdown as time expired in a 2018 playoff game — but it was thrilling nonetheless.
After the game, Cousins said that he thought Peterson was “being sarcastic” when he called for five touchdowns. But, in the end, he was happy to create a miracle of his own.