MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings had a chance to win the NFC North Division on their home field Saturday. They had a chance solidify a home playoff game, keep a grip on the No. 2 seed and earn their 11th win of the season.
It took the biggest comeback in NFL history to get there, but the Vikings won their first division title in five seasons after battling back from down 33-0 to earn a 39-36 win in overtime over the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings improve to 11-3 on the season, and 7-1 at home. The Colts came to Minneapolis 4-8-1 on the season and on a three-game losing streak, but were poised to leave with a commanding victory after scoring first half touchdowns on a blocked punt, interception and a Matt Ryan short pass to Deon Jackson. The Colts led 33-0 at the half, their largest such lead in 25 years and the Vikings' largest deficit in 20 years.
The Vikings also had a fake punt try fall incomplete, had Dalvin Cook get stuffed for a turnover on downs and had a Chandon Sullivan defensive touchdown called back on forward progress. Everything that could go wrong for the Vikings over a 30-minute span in a game did.
"After playing our worst half of football all season long, trying to do everything in our power to lose the football game, we came back in at halftime and our team had a decision to make," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the win. "This team believes in each other and we just had to try to play good football. We set a goal to win this division, from the very beginning of training camp we have not talked about anything else besides winning the division. Now we’ve got to take this moment, both the things that we clearly need to correct and see if we can harness the energy that it takes to set a record like that to have a more complete performance."
The Vikings could celebrate in the locker room after out-scoring the Colts in the second half, 39-3. They did so with NFC North title hats, and "Conquered the North" T-shirts. They won their T-shirt and hat game against all odds. With 8:30 left in the third quarter, the Colts had a 99 percent chance to win the game.
"It shows a lot, we’ve been through a lot of stuff the whole year. For us to come together as a team, it shows a lot. It feels great," Danielle Hunter said.
The second half comeback started in the locker room with a message from Patrick Peterson to the offense: Score five touchdowns.
"I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I walked out to address the team before we went back out there and I just overheard him walk over to the offense and he said ‘we’re going to get stops, you just need five touchdowns.' That’s what we needed at the time, that’s probably the most motivated I’ve been to challenge our players," O'Connell said.
"I didn’t know if he was being sarcastic. When I looked at him, he was serious," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "His point was we’re not going to let them score anymore so if you can get five touchdowns, that will be good enough."
Peterson, an 11-year veteran, said he feels like a kid playing with his young defensive teammates.
"We love one another, we want to fight for one another and just see where it takes us. A locker room full of guys that believe in one another, and we don’t want to waste this moment," Peterson said. "So many great plays today, so many great moments, unbelievable."
The comeback on the field started with Cousins hitting KJ Osborn for a 2-yard touchdown with 8:22 left in the third quarter. It was part of a career day for Osborn, who finished with 10 catches for 157 yards.
"He’s a guy that he could do that every week, but you’ve got Justin, you’ve got Adam, you’ve got TJ, you’ve got Dalvin. It’s been hard to get him the football as much as he deserves it. He’s the real deal," Cousins said.
"It felt amazing. Whether it was me or my teammates, a great team win. I was just trying to do my part. It just feels so good to win," Osborn said.
Cousins also hit Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook for second half touchdowns as part of a 460-yard, four touchdown day, and his second straight 400-yard game. The Vikings also got a rushing touchdown from CJ Ham. Jefferson finished with 12 catches for 123 yards.
The comeback was complete when Cousins hit Cook on a screen pass for a 64-yard touchdown with 2:15 to play. He then hit TJ Hockenson for a two-point conversion, tying the game 36-36. It set up the heroics for Joseph in overtime, even though a tie still would’ve won the division for the Vikings.
O'Connell said he knew that going into the drive, but wanted to go win the game.
"It was very much in my head. I think there’s moments where it says a lot about your confidence in your team, I wanted to win this football game. I thought our team earned the right to try to win the game. How about Greg knocking it in? As soon as it hit his foot, I knew it was in," O'Connell said.
The Vikings' defense, among the worst in the NFL entering Saturday's game, sacked Matt Ryan three times and limited the Colts to 6-of-19 on third downs. Ryan threw for 182 yards and the Colts collected 341 total yards after the Vikings let opponents get at least 400 yards the last five games. While Cousins and the offense were putting up points, they held the Colts to six punts, a lost fumble, a field goal and a turnover on downs on nine drives in the second half and overtime.
They also had two defensive scores from Chandon Sullivan called back on early whistles.
It's the Vikings' 10th win by one score this season, but it felt like it was over before the end of the first half. O'Connell was asked after how he's doing after their latest comeback.
"I’m absolutely exhausted right now," he said.
The Vikings now guarantee themselves at least one home playoff game, and still have the No. 2 seed in the NFC with three regular season games to play.