Fourteen seconds. That's all that separated the Vikings from experiencing doomsday or euphoria Sunday.
"Oh my gosh," center John Sullivan said, "it's a huge difference."
They couldn't land anywhere in the middle. What transpired offered no gray area. Those 14 seconds would determine the mood and outlook at Winter Park this week. Either everyone would feel giddy and hopeful and optimistic, or the place would resemble a morgue.
"The smile on my face is definitely a reflection of yesterday and the way our players played," coach Leslie Frazier said as he took the podium for his Monday debriefing.
This is what 1-0 looks like instead of 0-1. It's only one game in a long season, but today half of the NFL teams view their glass as half full. The other half, well, they get to hear a week's worth of analysis about their warts and flaws.
The Vikings got a glimpse of both in the final minute Sunday.
"It's easier to critique yourself after a win," tight end John Carlson noted. "People are much less sensitive."
Imagine the reaction around the team if those final 14 seconds of regulation had gone differently. Vikings players, coaches and fans would have been more than sensitive. Toxic is a more likely description.
"It's such a different feeling after a win than a loss," quarterback Christian Ponder said.
Especially the way it unfolded. The Vikings had control ... and then they didn't. Jacksonville delivered a gut punch with a touchdown in the final minute to take a 23-20 lead.
Suddenly, it was 2011 for the Vikings all over again. They probably didn't need reminding that they lost their first four games by a combined 19 points last season, including blown leads in the first three. Consider the emotional fallout if they began 2012 with another lump of coal after telling everyone things will be different.
But this ending was different. The Vikings made plays, critical plays, that gave them hope. Then, rookie kicker Blair Walsh gave them another chance with his booming 55-yard field goal. Others made key contributions in overtime.
Suddenly, a loss became a win, and Winter Park reflected that reality 24 hours later.
"Being part of losses like that in the past, in my own experiences, it's incredibly demoralizing," Carlson said. "It's so hard to win games in this league that when you feel like you've got one and they take it away at the last second, it's demoralizing. On the flip side, I think it gives us confidence to know that we can make those big plays at the end of games to close it out and win."
The Vikings didn't play a clean, crisp game by any means. No one is suggesting they call an urgent meeting with city officials to map out the parade route. Their offense stunk for most of the first half, and the defense displayed far too many breakdowns. But winning sure beats the alternative for a young team that needs something positive on which to build.
"It's huge for the whole morale of the team," receiver Devin Aromashodu said.
Now, a 2-0 start is entirely realistic. The Indianapolis Colts have added Andrew Luck, but there is a reason why they were in position to draft the Stanford quarterback No. 1 overall. They won only two games last season, and they looked every bit as inept in a 41-21 loss to the Chicago Bears in their opener.
The Vikings need to play better for that to happen though.
"We didn't play our best ball," Percy Harvin said.
What they did is finish strong, an area in which they failed so often last season. Harvin admitted a few players looked dejected when the offense took the field for that final drive in regulation. He credited veteran receiver Michael Jenkins for giving them a spark with some encouraging words, even though Jenkins admitted he initially wrestled with his own "here-we-go-again" feeling.
"Maybe inside to yourself, but you don't want to say it," Jenkins said. "Just try and stay positive and fight to the bitter end."
The Vikings did that and were rewarded. It's impossible to predict where this will lead, if anywhere. A season is not determined after one game, and the Vikings showed they have obvious flaws and deficiencies.
But it's a good start and certainly more positive than things appeared with 14 seconds left on the clock. That's the beauty of the NFL. The Vikings looked as if they would wake up in a foul mood Monday. Instead, they came to work with a smile on their face.
"Coaches always preach that you always have a chance, just keep fighting," Carlson said. "I don't think you fully believe that until you experience it."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org