Greg Joseph took his place shy of 4 yards from midfield, standing on the neck hair of a Norseman crest that was painted white for the Vikings’ Christmas Eve winter game.
Only one kicker in team history (Blair Walsh) attempted a field goal longer than the 61-yard kicker Joseph attempted as the Vikings and Giants tied the game at the end of the game on Saturday. The last time a Vikings kicker attempted one near that long in Minneapolis, Antonio Cromartie returned Ryan Longwell’s 57-yard attempt for a 109-yard touchdown in 2007. With safety Julian Love positioned in the end zone returning Joseph’s kick If the right attempt failed, Brian O’Neill knew he might need to stop to save the match.
“I started running down the field,” O’Neal said, “and Greg started running the other way.”
I directed Joseph’s kick towards the center of the uprights, disappearing into a blizzard of fans in white shirts and cold shocks. He jogged toward the opposite area, twirling his right index finger in the air. This past weekend’s winner helped them complete the biggest comeback in NFL history. The 61-yard drive that gave the Vikings a 27-24 victory on Saturday was the longest in team history.
“I looked at Greg. I could see he was looking him in the eye so cool,” said coach Kevin O’Connell. “He definitely took that kick.
And so the Vikings won for the 12th time this year, in a way that has long since become an advantage rather than a fault. The win over the Giants was their 11th in the NFL by one point. It was their sixth this season where they were outclassed. But as they have done all season, the Vikings summoned a certain kind of magic at the deadline, scoring 17 of their 28 points in a wild fourth quarter that saw two lead changes and a tie.
“We’ve been through situations like this all year, whether it’s extra time, the last game, [last] If it goes like this all year, O’Neal said, you wouldn’t be surprised if it kept happening. “We had some experience and managed to get to the top, so I hope it prepares us well [for] the next two weeks.”
The Vikings (12-3) held a one-game lead for the #2 seed in the NFC on the 49ers, who beat the leaders on Saturday to advance to 11-4. The Vikings still have a chance at a top seed over the Eagles, but more than likely they will need to stay ahead of San Francisco to maintain second place in the conference and a chance to start the playoffs with two games at home; Saturday’s game showed yet again how much they need to improve before the postseason.
They gave up 445 yards to a Giants offense that hasn’t produced more than 436 yards this season, with Daniel Jones connecting on a passing touchdown designed to test the Vikings’ newfound use of human coverage. Cornerback Patrick Peterson estimated he was targeted seven times by crossbars; Jones also hit Darius Slayton for 22 yards against Nickelback cornerback Chandon Sullivan in the third quarter.
Running back Saquon Barkley ran for 133 yards on 22 touches, breaking through the middle of the defense for a 27-yard score on fourth-and-two that helped New York tie the game with 2:01 left.
Offensively, the Vikings squandered an opportunity to put the game away early.
Peterson had stalked the sideline between the defensive chain, obsessing that he would intercept Jones the one time the quarterback targeted him. He called his shot by undermining tackle Isaiah Hodgins with 11:50 to go, putting the Vikings in position to go up by 11.
But the Vikings elected to throw in short-handed situations on both third and fourth, with Cousins throwing imperfectly to Jefferson on fourth and second from a deep drive that also had Adam Thielen in the same area.
“We weren’t at our best all the time,” O’Connell said. “We’re still chasing four quarters of the real, consistent football that we want to see. But I was really proud of our guys, the complementary football that came out there to help take that thing off.”
There was perhaps no greater example of this than with 4:10 left, when Josh Metellos raced to block kicker Jimmy Gillan and Troy Daylove tackled after the safety recovered the ball.
After taking over the Giants 29, Cousins hit Jefferson for a 17-yard touchdown on third-and-1 when receiver broke his way inside between Giants cornerback Fabian Morrow and safety Jason Pennock, stretching into the end zone as both players tried to tackle him. Joseph Pate gave the Vikings an eight-point lead.
“Just his ability to run and finish, it’s elite,” Cousins said of Jefferson, who set a franchise record for receiving yards and receptions in a season on Saturday. “You probably owe him more. There were a few other plays for him. Short yardage in the first half where I didn’t throw it well enough. Glad we ended up completing some big games there for him.”
On third down and 9 with 1:16 left, Cousins threw towards the left side with the Giants defender in the face, confident that Jefferson would get where the quarterback couldn’t see. Jefferson caught Darnay Holmes on the spot and recovered it for a 16-yard touchdown run.
Then, with 19 seconds left, Cousins walked to the line of scrimmage and saw the Giants prepare to attack him from the Vikings 41. He signaled tight end TJ Hockenson—who caught a game-high 13 passes for 109 yards and two scores—to the slot, setting up a screen for Jefferson, who followed the blocks. From guards Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland for 17 yards.
If it wasn’t for Love’s ankle tackle, Jefferson might have ended the day with a memorable touchdown. Instead, Cousins bunted the ball with 4 seconds left and O’Connell called out Joseph.
He struggled with longer kicks after a stellar training camp and preseason, with special teams coordinator Matt Daniels pinning the problem on player tracking when he pushed the ball to the right. But Joseph hit 19 consecutive field goals or extra points when he lined up for the last time on Saturday. The kick cleared the uprights with plenty of room to spare.
“I forgot we hit [a game-winner] Last week, he said, “Long snapper Andrew DiPaola.” I assume he’s taking the same approach as me, and that’s just the next kick. I completely forgot that these are two match winners in a row.”
Such is the life of Vikings in 2022 that the climatic victories almost seem to be rolling off the assembly line.
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