Vikings 27, Broncos 23: Three Takeaways From An Epic Comeback Victory
The Vikings might've just played their single worst and best halves of football of the entire season in the course of one game.
Kirk Cousins threw three second-half touchdown passes, Jayron Kearse broke up a potential game-winning pass on the final play, and the Vikings became the first team in the last five years to overcome a second-half deficit of at least 20 points. In the end, it added up to a thrilling 27-23 victory over the Broncos that moves the Vikings to 8-3 heading into their bye week.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Playing fast was a game-changer for Kirk Cousins and the offense
Coming into this game, the Vikings knew the Broncos defense would present a challenge for their offense. However, they probably didn't anticipate struggling to the extent that they did in the first half.
It was, quite simply, a pathetic half of offense. As the Vikings ran to their locker room for halftime – to a cacophony of boos from their home crowd – they had accrued exactly 47 yards of offense. 13 of their 23 plays had gone for two yards or fewer, including three sacks. Nothing was working – running, passing, nothing. Something needed to change.
In the second half, the Vikings abandoned their previous plan and went to something they wouldn't normally go to early in the third quarter: their two-minute offense. They knew they needed a spark to start the half, so they turned Cousins loose and began to play with tempo.
The result was a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. After picking up a much-needed yard on a fourth-down QB sneak from their own half, the Vikings dialed up a deep shot. Cousins found Stefon Diggs for 44 yards down the left sideline, and two plays later, connected with Irv Smith Jr. for the rookie's first career touchdown catch.
On their second drive of the second half, they stayed with the no-huddle approach. This time, they ran 18 plays in just under six minutes for another touchdown drive, capped by Dalvin Cook's 11th rushing touchdown of the season. Their final two drives? A combined eight plays in 2:49 with two long touchdown passes.
Four drives, four touchdowns. And a lot of that success can be credited to the up-tempo, 2-minute approach. Even though the 2-minute offense features a limited number of plays, the Broncos were unable to adjust defensively. It was a change that won the Vikings the game.
Cousins deserves a lot of credit for how he was able to execute the no-huddle offense and lead the Vikings all the way back. He struggled in the first half, but Cousins stepped up in a big way during the comeback, making some outstanding decisions and throws in a situation that gave him virtually no margin for error. That's the quarterback the Vikings are paying big money for.
2. Despite the win, mistakes and poor play remain concerns
There's no doubt that the Vikings' heroic second-half comeback is the story of this game. It was an incredible performance from Cousins, Diggs, and the defense that showed why the Vikings are one of the best teams in the NFL when they're clicking.
But that doesn't mean we can forget about the first half entirely. The numerous mistakes made by the Vikings, along with poor play from just about everyone on the team, showed why the Vikings might be tough to trust as true contenders going forward.
Once a major concern, the Vikings offensive line has been mostly playing quite well for over a month. That good run came to a crashing halt in the first half of this game. They were burned for three sacks (and two more in the second half), including a strip-sack where Riley Reiff was roasted by Shelby Harris. They also failed to create any running lanes whatsoever, and committed two penalties: a false start by Pat Elflein and a holding call on Reiff that wiped out a big gain to Diggs.
On the sack by Harris, Cousins' infamous fumbling tendency reared its head. He wasn't protecting the ball effectively, and lost it far too easily as he was hit. It was his first turnover since the Bears game in Week 4, but his fumbling habit remains a concern going forward.
Also a concern: the play of Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings one-time star cornerback had his worst game of an already rough season (Rhodes entered the game ranked 100th out of 116 corners by PFF), especially in the first half. He was burned time and time again by Courtland Sutton on Sunday, with untested QB Brandon Allen seeming completely unhesistant to throw in Rhodes' direction. Sutton is a very talented receiver, but those are the types of guys Rhodes was paid to limit. He also had a bad missed tackle that gave the Broncos a first down. As this point, do the Vikings consider benching him?
Lastly, the Vikings need to improve on special teams. Ameer Abdullah fumbled on a kickoff return, only to be bailed out by an Andrew Sendejo interception on the ensuing play, and Mike Hughes was lucky not to have lost a fumble on a muffed punt that Eric Wilson recovered. Those two plays could've been much worse than they were. Luckily for the Vikings, they get two whole weeks to attempt to fix their mistakes and get ready for the Seahawks.
3. The Vikings were pretty fortunate to win this game
For as well as they played in the second half, the Vikings can't take all of the credit for this victory. Some of it has to go to Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. Their poor clock management and decision-making down the stretch were partly why the Vikings were able to complete their comeback.
For example: facing a 3rd and 7 from the Vikings 29 with a 23-20 lead, Scangarello was conservative and ran the ball. The Broncos didn't get the first down, and Brandon McManus's field goal sailed wide right. Playing for the touchdown there may have won the Broncos the game. On the final drive, Fangio managed his timeouts poorly and ran out of time to score the game-winning touchdown.
Whether it was the Broncos' coaching, McManus's miss, or the two special teams fumbles not proving costly, the Vikings dodged several bullets in this game. Just as everything went wrong in the first half, everything had to go perfectly right to make a comeback possible.
It did, and the Vikings are 8-3. They'll need to play much better for 60 minutes to win some of the big games that lie ahead.