Vikings earn largest comeback in NFL history — and savor every moment


MINNEAPOLIS — His face reddened. His words slowed. Tears trickled down from his eyes and smeared his eye black.

This was minutes after the Vikings completed their 39-36 victory over the Colts, and this was linebacker Eric Kendricks finally embracing the magnitude of the largest comeback in NFL history.

Inside the locker room, Kendricks stopped talking entirely. Then he smiled, realizing the emotions had made him an absolute mess.

“Y’all gotta get out of here,” Kendricks said with a laugh.

He turned away from the cameras. He looked toward the ground. Locker mate Jordan Hicks noticed and wrapped his arm around his teammate. The two NFL veterans did not know each other well before this season. Now here they were, standing side by side, savoring an everlasting memory together.

By no means has this Vikings season been perfect. In Week 2, they were annihilated by the Eagles on national television. In November, the Cowboys demolished the Vikings in front of an excited home crowd. Just this week, the team’s defense, both personnel and staff, bore the brunt of much-deserved criticism.



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Offensive lulls have kept opponents in games. Defensive porousness has been maddening. For weeks, quarterback Kirk Cousins even admitted he would drive home frustrated, unable to understand how the Vikings were winning in spite of their play.

Many of these concerns were — and still are — valid, especially if this team expects to make noise in the playoffs. Kendricks’ emotional reaction, though, shows just how meaningful this 11-victory, division-winning ride has been.

“I’m just here living in the moment, man,” Kendricks said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

On one side of the locker room, Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill sat quietly in full pads, reflecting on what had just happened while ripping the white tape off his fingertips. On the other side, booming rap music drowned out running back Dalvin Cook, who was describing the locker room scene at halftime, before the mayhem began.

The Colts led 33-0 then, and as the Vikings players entered the room, the defense huddled on one side, the offense on the other.

At one point, veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson hollered out: “We’re going to get stops. You just need five touchdowns. That’s nothing.”

Cousins heard those words and initially was unsure whether it was sarcasm. Though he was attempting to remain upbeat, he was replaying the first-half disaster in his mind. He was just 6-of-12 passing for 43 yards and an interception (that was returned for an Indianapolis touchdown). He had been sacked three times. He thought about the punt block that led to another Colts touchdown and even the fake-punt pass that failed in their own territory.

“I just felt like we were losing in a lot of ways,” Cousins said. “And it wasn’t good.”

Hearing Peterson’s five-touchdown comment, Cousins glanced over and realized Peterson was serious. Others attempted to speak a comeback into existence, as well. Justin Jefferson asked K.J. Osborn if he remembered the Steelers nearly coming back from a 29-0 deficit against the Vikings in 2021.

“That’s what J.J. was telling us,” Osborn said. “Why not flip the switch and us do it?”

On the sideline, linebackers coach Greg Manusky had a message for Kendricks: “This is going to be the biggest comeback in history.”

“We were like, ‘F— yeah!” Kendricks said. “Let’s go.”

The tidal wave started with just a ripple. Cook’s mindset?

Let’s get one score.

First, Cousins hurled a 63-yard pass downfield to Osborn, setting up the team’s first touchdown of the day, a 2-yard pass from Cousins to Osborn.

Then …

Let’s get two.

With a little over a minute to play in the third quarter, Vikings fullback C.J. Ham pounded the ball into the end zone from a yard out.

Still, at the end of the third quarter, the Vikings trailed 36-14. Coach Kevin O’Connell marched up and down the sidelines, clapping, believing, willing.

Let’s get three.

After the game, shirtless and posted up at his locker with sweat dripping from his body, Peterson admitted that the Vikings’ third touchdown was his favorite moment of the game.


“That was a helluva route and touchdown,” he said. “And it was third down. We f—ing needed it.”

On a third-and-2 from the Colts 8-yard line, Jefferson ran an “ocho” route on talented Indy cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The route involves a hop off the line of scrimmage, a release to the left, a quick deceleration, a jab step and then a continuation.

Essentially, Jefferson did the hokey pokey and turned Gilmore around.

“Going up against one of the best DBs just goes to show the confidence he has,” Peterson said. “And the attention to detail.”

Momentum is impossible to measure, but with 12:59 remaining in the game and the Vikings trailing 36-21, there was an energy on the sidelines. The virtually impossible seemed inconceivably possible.

Let’s get four.

Kendricks stopped looking up at the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, but the volume of the “Skol” chants kept him informed about where the Vikings stood. When Cousins pinpointed a pass to Adam Thielen in the end zone with 5:30 left in regulation, the crowd roared.

Down 36-28 now, the defense then returned to the field, motivated to give the offense another chance.

Let’s get five.

On a first-and-10 from their own 38, Colts running back Deon Jackson clearly fumbled the ball before he was down. Cornerback Chandon Sullivan burst out of the pile with the ball and scurried to the house. The home crowd erupted — only to discover that the referees had whistled the play dead.

After the game, Sullivan and safety Harrison Smith reviewed the fumble that wasn’t.

“They owe you one,” Smith said.

“I know, bro,” Sullivan responded. “I still need an explanation.”

“The original ruling on the field was that the runner that was in the pile was down by contact,” referee Tra Blake told pool reporter Chip Scoggins after the game. “Subsequently, a Minnesota player got it back. We had a look and could tell right away that the runner was still up when the ball came loose. … But the ruling on the field was the runner was down by contact. There was a subsequent loose ball and then a recovery by Minnesota and an advance (for a touchdown).

“Minnesota challenged that and by the time they challenged, we had good views,” Blake continued. “We had an expedited review to announce that it was a fumble, and we had a clear recovery. But all we could do was give Minnesota the ball at the spot of the recovery.”

Notably, a play earlier in the game featured similar circumstances and a similar call. Sullivan had scooped up a clear fumble and returned it for a touchdown, only to hear the referees had whistled it dead. That explains his frustration with this second call in this pivotal moment: Sullivan was furious and tossed his helmet onto the field in anger.

“I kinda lost my temper,” Sullivan said. “And I feel like anybody would. It’s a close game. We’re climbing back. And it was another situation where I could help my team.”

Touchdown No. 5 did not come on that possession. Instead, Minnesota turned the ball over on downs with 2:57 remaining in regulation. Using their timeouts, though, the Vikings defense forced the Colts into a fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 36. Interim coach Jeff Saturday elected to go for it and called upon Matt Ryan for a sneak.

Kendricks and Hicks, specifically, stuffed it.

On the next play, Cook received a screen pass and followed the blocks of offensive linemen Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland for a 64-yard touchdown.

“I’m glad Ezra was there to kinda get me in the end zone,” Cook said in the locker room afterward.

Cook glanced over at Cleveland, who was standing a few yards away.

“Ezra! I’m talking about how you just carried me in the end zone!”

“I’m all right,” Cleveland said, smiling shyly.

His fellow offensive linemen burst out in laughter.

A two-point conversion to T.J. Hockenson tied the game at 36.

The game went to overtime. Both teams punted on their first possessions. With 1:41 to play, though, the Vikings got the ball back. Before Cousins stepped out onto the field, quarterbacks coach Chris O’Hara passed along the plan.

“We’re going to run it to start,” he said. “Tie wins the division.”

Cousins was astounded. He had no clue. Trotting out on the field, he wondered whether O’Connell would attempt to win the game or play for the tie.

After a quick Cook run that gained 6, O’Connell waited a few seconds to send in the second play call.

“I’m, like, maybe he’s going for the tie,” Cousins said.

The next play call, though, was a dropback pass to Thielen, whom Cousins hit perfectly for a gain of 21.

“I wanted to win this football game,” O’Connell said. “I thought our team had earned the right to try to win it.”

In the end, the win hinged on the leg of kicker Greg Joseph, whose 40-yard field goal as time expired set off celebrations among the home faithful.

“That was my favorite part,” Sullivan said.

Walking off of the field, a Vikings staffer relayed to Cousins that the comeback was the largest in NFL history. He didn’t believe it, mostly because he’s sat on his couch plenty of times and watched the reruns of Frank Reich’s January 1993 comeback victory with the Bills over the Oilers.

“Something like that doesn’t happen to average people,” Cousins said. “So, I’m proud.”



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While the locker room continued to buzz over the final result, Cousins, draped in a Vikings-logo-embroidered blazer, fielded questions from reporters. His young son, Cooper, sat restlessly in the front row listening to his father.

Cousins talked about enjoying the moment and the day and the season.

“I’m not wired that way,” he said before looking down at his son.

“I want to make sure I can play long enough for him to remember it and be a part of it,” Cousins continued. “And also to look back and say I didn’t miss (the joy of it) while I was in it.”

Those words embody O’Neill’s quiet moments at his locker and the tears clouding Kendricks’ eyes. The words are the perfect message: Relish these memories because they won’t last forever.

(Photo of K.J. Osborn: Adam Bettcher / Getty Images)


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