The truest Vikings fans could not have been more nervous. This might seem like a paradox, but it’s fact: fans of the purple are never more full of hope than when the Vikings are trying to make a comeback and they are never more nervous than when Minnesota is trying to hold a lead.
And so the final 15 minutes of play Sunday night were spent, in bars and homes across Minnesota, with eyes covered and fingernails bitten to the nubs.
First Green Bay grinded out a long TD drive to get within 20-10. That was uncomfortable, but not a real “uh-oh” moment. Not yet. Then the Vikings couldn’t move the ball, Green Bay drove again … and had to settle for a field goal, but still a field goal that made it a one-score game. Keeping the lead seven instead of three was a moral victory, and fans pleaded for this: a sustained drive that netted points and put this thing away.
And that’s when it looked like the collapse could really take hold with that traditionally very Vikings moment: immense elation followed by colossal deflation. Cordarrelle Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff deep into Green Bay territory, already into range for a field goal that would have been a huge help in closing out the victory … before fumbling while being tackled by a gray-haired kicker.
The Packers predictably drove from there deep into Minnesota territory, with Vikings fans of all ages expecting that a tie was an inevitability. But it was at this point that it became not the most Vikings-esque game ever but instead two other things: 1) A very Mike Zimmer game. 2) A very Packers-esque game of recent vintage.
Zimmer’s 2015 squad has been a lot of things, but in particular it has been both resilient and tough. Blocking out the immediate past is a terribly hard thing to do, but the Vikings have done it brilliantly both from game-to-game and play-to-play this season. That was exemplified with a four-down stop deep in their own territory, the final play an interception in the end zone to preserve the seven-point lead.
The Packers, meanwhile, have become the NFC North leaders in heartbreak. Last year, after the conference title game meltdown, I chronicled all of Green Bay’s playoff daggers. This season, the Packers’ signature single play was a Hail Mary that won them a game in Detroit. But let’s not forget that they were swept at home by the Lions, Bears and Vikings for the first time since 1991. In each of those games, the Packers had a chance to tie or win in the closing moments. Each time, they came up short in crushing fashion.
And so when Teddy Bridgewater lost the grip on a handoff attempt the play after the Vikings stopped the Packers in the end zone, naturally Adrian Peterson was able to fall on it even with a swarm of Packers defenders around him. And so even after the Vikings had to punt and Green Bay got one more chance, Minnesota bottled up the Packers and forced a desperation heave this time to fall harmlessly to the ground.
These are the new Vikings. And these are the new Packers.