The final words on the 2022 Minnesota Vikings season will be written in the playoffs. Players and coaches know their NFC North Division crown and thrillingly high (and low) moments of this regular season can be amplified with postseason wins or buried by a quick exit.
"We're right there," said receiver Adam Thielen, who will be making his fourth playoff appearance in 10 seasons. "You have that opportunity, like, we got to do it. We got to go win."
In a campaign full of twists and turns, some moments have stood above the rest to define this regular season. But good luck finding a consensus among a Vikings locker room responsible for a 13-4 season, an NFL-record 11 one-score wins and eight comebacks in the fourth quarters and overtime.
A survey of about a dozen players produced nine different defining moments, even the first loss of the season in Philadelphia. The 24-7 defeat to the Eagles in Week 2 showed Pro Bowl long snapper Andrew DePaola what their special teams could accomplish after blocking an Eagles field-goal attempt and smothering their returners.
"The thing about being one of the good ones is you're going to get everyone's best shot every week," he said. "That's something we've had to live up to and be ready for."
Here are five other moments Vikings players picked that built their reputation this season:
NOV. 13, 2022
Jefferson's 'catch of year' lifts Vikings in Buffalo
The moment sure to last the longest — receiver Justin Jefferson's one-handed grab for 32 yards to convert a fourth-and-18 play, dubbed the "catch of the year" by the NFL — helped the Vikings come back against the Super Bowl-contending Bills in a 33-30 overtime win in Week 10.
Vikings defenders withstood Josh Allen's 414 yards from scrimmage, including 84 rushing yards, by forcing four takeaways, including Eric Kendricks' fumble recovery in the end zone in the final minute of regulation and cornerback Patrick Peterson's game-sealing interception in overtime.
Jefferson's sky grab, in which he wrapped his right wrist around the ball and snatched it away from Bills cornerback Cam Lewis, became a brand-defining moment for the 23-year-old superstar. Jefferson's catch is emblazoned on the front of shirts and sweatshirts worn by him, teammates and fans alike.
"It felt like it was unreal, felt like a movie," Jefferson said. "I told everybody this means this is our season — for us to win out, go to the Super Bowl."
Former Bills defender Harrison Phillips concurred that the importance of the Buffalo win, called the "game of the year" by TV announcers as soon as it was over, carried beyond that weekend.
"Even taking my personal bias out of it," Phillips said, "to win at Buffalo I think that's a really big thing to do. I've been on the other side of it. They preach win at home, win at home, win at home. It's a hard environment to play in, conditions and all these things. To go there and beat them, I think was a really impressive thing for our team."
DEC. 17, 2022
The greatest comeback of all time vs. Colts
Jubilation peaked again inside the home locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the many determined fans who stayed through a 33-0 halftime deficit witnessed the NFL's greatest comeback of all time in the Vikings' 39-36 overtime win against the Colts in Week 15. Kirk Cousins threw four touchdown passes to four different targets as the Vikings outscored Indy 39-3 the rest of the way.
Right tackle Brian O'Neill, the team captain who suffered a season-ending Achilles tear on Jan. 1, was the last player still in pads 45 minutes after the final whistle. He absorbed the incredible win, which gave the Vikings their first NFC North crown since 2017 and O'Neill's first in five years with the team.
"It was a crazy day," O'Neill said, "but a culmination of a lot of hard years of work from guys who have been here for a while trying to get this done."
The division title validated a culture shift under coach Kevin O'Connell in the eyes of its leaders like O'Neill and linebacker Jordan Hicks, the 30-year-old veteran who signed a two-year deal as a free agent last spring.
"What's special about it is what was on the line, and how far our backs were against the wall," Hicks said. " … It just shows the mentality and the fight and the will to come together. We've built this thing from the top down. When [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] got here, when [O'Connell] got here, when I signed here, they said this was going to be a team built on relationships. That's what you see out there. You see men looking at each other saying I'm not going to give up."
SEPT. 11, 2022 | JAN. 1, 2023
Kings of the NFC North? Season split with Packers
Last week the Vikings rode the momentum of two thrilling victories — the Colts comeback and kicker Greg Joseph's 61-yard game-winner against the Giants on Christmas Eve — into a chance to assert themselves as unquestioned kings of the NFC North at Lambeau Field.
But doubt crept back after a 41-17 drubbing, their third loss by at least 17 points. It sealed a fourth straight season in which Minnesota failed to win the series with Green Bay, which behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers has won the division in eight of the past 12 seasons.
When asked about a defining moment this regular season, left tackle Christian Darrisaw noted the season-opening 23-7 win over the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. That's when the second-year blocker said he knew O'Connell had the team headed in the right direction after many starters were held out of the preseason.
"We didn't have an opportunity to play together," Darrisaw said. "That first game vs. Green Bay was like, we really got a special group. And, like, no one can stop us, really, but us. The sky's the limit type of deal. From there, we've just been clicking, and we are where we're at now just trying to make this playoff run."
SEPT. 25, 2022
The first comeback vs. Detroit
Coming off the Eagles loss, the Vikings stared at a two-game skid while trailing 24-14 in the fourth quarter against the Lions in Week 3. Running back Dalvin Cook was injured and fumbled. Then Cousins sparked the offense in the fourth quarter with three first-down throws. He got a boost by a grabby Lions secondary that added two more first downs via penalty on one touchdown drive.
Then receiver K.J. Osborn's back-to-back 28-yard catches – the last for a go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left in the 28-24 win – completed the first of eight fourth-quarter and overtime comebacks. This was O'Neill's pick when asked about a defining moment for the 2022 regular season.
"K.J.'s touchdown against the Lions," O'Neill said. "There are all these fourth-quarter moments, where I'm not necessarily looking at the result — like we ended up winning this game and that's what made me believe. But how we handled the situation we were in, and the maturity guys showed in those moments, makes me believe. Playoff games are close and games late in the season are going to be close."
Safety Josh Metellus intercepted Lions quarterback Jared Goff in the closing seconds for a Vikings defense that helped seal the win with five straight stops — including a missed 54-yard field goal.
"Adversity is only going to be one snap away in this league," O'Connell said after the Vikings' first one-score win. "And you've just got to meet the moment, rely on your leadership and trust the guys around you in those huddles to get it done."
NOV. 6, 2022
Hockenson's acquisition, 'first taste'
The Vikings overcame again in T.J. Hockenson's first game.
The tight end hadn't played on a team with a winning record in November or beyond during his first three seasons for the Lions. When Adofo-Mensah sent a 2023 second-round pick and 2024 third-round pick to Detroit for Hockenson and two fourth-round picks (one conditional), Hockenson joined his first contender. He said he needed only one Vikings start to know this group's capability.
"My first one: Washington," said Hockenson, who had nine catches for 70 yards in a 20-17 Week 9 win after just a few Vikings practices.
The team was down 17-7 early in the fourth quarter, and Hockenson said O'Neill came up to him and told him, "Don't worry. We're going to come back; somebody is going to make a play."
"And we ended up winning, and that's exactly what happened," added Hockenson, who has 60 catches, 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games, morphing into the top receiving option behind Jefferson. "That was kind of my first experience, first taste of it. Ever since that game, it was one of those things where I never really doubted that we'd at least be able to come back and make a game of it."
The Hockenson trade was an aggressive move by Adofo-Mensah, the first-year general manager, to push this roster forward for this season and 2023, when the tight end is under contract at a guaranteed $9.3 million. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is not under contract beyond this year.
"You're always trying to project, project, project," Adofo-Mensah said after the trade. "Where are you? Where are your opponents? If you look at the league, I think it was the most trades at the trade deadline. This is an aggressive mind-set."