In its final 15 snaps before the bye week, the Vikings gave up one third-down conversion, three fourth-down conversions and, oh yeah, mugged backup safety Jayron Kearse for making a game-clinching play at the final gun for the second straight week.
“Don’t call him Jayron!” Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs yelled to reporters after the Vikings came back from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat Denver 27-23 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
“From now on,” Diggs continued, “He’s Big-play Jay!”
A week after intercepting a Dak Prescott Hail Mary in the end zone to preserve a 28-24 victory, Kearse once again was in the end zone with a four-point lead to protect, the game clock at: 00 and the ball in the air.
The 6-4, 215-pound backup safety had been shadowing 6-4, 249-pound rookie tight end Noah Fant in the closing seconds. Fant even tried to push off, but …
“He’s a big body; I’m a big body,” Kearse said. “You’re not going to bully me. You’re not going to outmuscle me. We’re going to be two physical football players, and when the ball goes up it’s my job to make sure you don’t come down with it.”
Mission accomplished. In fact, in the final 10 snaps, Kearse had three passes defensed, including the final two plays, both against Fant.
Before that, on third-and-6 at the Vikings 30, it was Kearse who outmuscled 6-6, 248-pound tight end Troy Fumagalli.
The ball fell incomplete. Broncos coach Vic Fangio challenged, arguing that Kearse was guilty of pass interference. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t worried.
“I talked to the league this week,” said Zimmer, who is 0-for-3 on challenging pass interference calls and no-calls. “I didn’t think there was any way they were going to overturn it.”
Kearse was asked if he felt “picked on” in the closing minutes.
“I don’t call it picking on me because I feel I can make those plays,” he said. “It’s picking on me if you’re bullying me. You’re not bullying me. I can make those plays. Bring it on. I’m ready for it.”
It’s been a rough few weeks for the big safety.
On Oct. 27, he was arrested and charged with five misdemeanors after being pulled over while driving drunk with a loaded weapon.
He lost his status as team captain. He didn’t get the starting nod Sunday as Zimmer went with recently re-signed Andrew Sendejo in place of the injured Anthony Harris. Then, on Saturday night, when a fan asked him via Twitter if he thought the Vikings had a place for him in the future, he tweeted, “No.”
After Sunday’s game, Kearse hinted that his mind wasn’t right until he talked with Harris before the game.
“Just the thoughts in my head and just the things I was going through and thinking, to have a talk with Anthony Harris right before the game was really big,” Kearse said. “I can’t thank him enough.”
Despite facing Brandon Allen, a young quarterback making his first NFL road start, Zimmer had to shelve his blitz packages more than he would have liked in favor of double coverages, particularly down the stretch.
“[Courtland] Sutton was killing us, so we had to double him,” Zimmer said of the receiver who had 113 yards on five catches, including grabs of 48 and 43 yards.
In those final 15 snaps, Allen completed a 14-yard pass on third-and-13, an 11-yard pass on fourth-and-6 and a 6-yard pass on fourth-and-6. He also ran 11 yards to the 4, on fourth-and-1.
Kearse made that tackle, setting up three cracks at the end zone with 10 seconds left.
Trae Waynes defended a pass against Tim Patrick on the first snap. Former NFL official and current CBS Sports rules analyst Gene Steratore tweeted a photo of Waynes grabbing Patrick’s facemask as the ball arrived.
There was no call, Vikings fans. So not all officials are out to get ya.
Kearse took care of the final two snaps as Allen looked to his big, single-covered tight end.
“They spread him out wide,” Kearse said. “I guess they thought they had a mismatch.”
Nope. Not against “Big-play Jay.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org