A 2020 NFL regular season that felt tenuous at times because of the COVID-19 pandemic ended Sunday in fitting fashion: By making a lot of ask, "What just happened?"
At no time was that question asked more loudly or forcefully Sunday than when Kirk Cousins was sacked on a fourth down and goal play in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings clinging to a 31-29 win over the Lions. It looked like a turnover on downs and a chance for Detroit to go the other way and take the lead. Instead, a flag came out.
You could tell right away from where and when it was thrown that it had something to do with the hit on Cousins, and that the Vikings would be gifted a fresh set of downs.
What was it: Helmet-to helmet? Grabbing the face mask, perhaps? Those would have been understandable calls. But the replay revealed ... nothing. I mean: Nothing, unless you want to give the most generous of all generous interpretations of the Anthony Barr Rule by which a defender is not allowed to land on an opposing QB.
It looked 99.9% like a perfectly timed rush and a solid, legal tackle. But there was the flag, anyway.
The call certainly boosted the Vikings' chances of winning, which they did 37-35 even though Dan Bailey's ensuing extra point try after the gift touchdown was blasted somewhere toward Canada. What did the win mean? Not a ton in a mediocre season. But it did cement two things:
It gave the Vikings the No. 14 pick in the draft. A loss, as it turns out, would have put the Vikings in the No. 12 slot. Two spots in the draft order don't mean much, but let's remember it nonetheless in a few months.
And it meant the Vikings, at 7-9, finished just one game out of the playoffs. If they had defeated the Bears in Week 15, in fact, they would have squeaked into the playoffs at 8-8 instead of Chicago after Arizona lost its final two. Maybe it's for the best that they didn't, considering that would have set up a rematch against New Orleans?
Here are nine other wild things from Week 17:
*Detroit kicker Matt Prater made a 54-yard field goal against the Vikings — his 59th of his career of 50 yards or more, setting a new NFL record previously held by Sebastian Janikowski. His 59-yard field goal earlier this season also held up in a bizarre promotion from Bud Light and earned free beer for the city of Detroit.
Prater, by the way, will hit free agency in March. Can you think of any teams who could use a dependable kicker with a big leg and a history of earning free beer?
*Speaking of kickers, Titans rookie Sam Sloman gave Tennessee the AFC South title with his 37-yard field goal on the game's final play. The unusual part? It doinked off the right upright and barely slid over the crossbar ... and it came after he was signed from the practice squad. Some of his teammates didn't even know him.
*In that same game, Derrick Henry ran for 250 yards to finish with 2,027 on the season. Did that sneak up on anyone else? Should we be talking a little more about Henry for MVP?
*The most curious coaching decision Sunday? The Eagles' Doug Pederson pulling QB Jalen Hurts early in the fourth quarter of a game in which Philadelphia trailed 17-14 to Washington. Hurts had two rushing touchdowns in the game, and Carson Wentz was already sitting out. That left Nate Sudfeld to finish up. He went 5 of 12 for 32 yards and an INT as Washington won 20-14 to win the NFC East.
The Eagles, who almost definitely were tanking for draft position even if Pederson laughably said he was "coaching to win," will have the No. 6 pick. It would have been No. 9 with a victory. Washington was surely thrilled. You know who wasn't? Giants players, who were watching the Sunday night game and hoping a Washington loss would give them the NFC East title (albeit with a sickly 6-10 record). Several of them tweeted about it.
*In a truly stunning development Sunday, the Browns made the playoffs. They clinched their first berth since 2002, breaking the NFL's longest streak, with a 24-22 win over Pittsburgh. And first-year coach Kevin Stefanski has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Brian Billick and Mike Tomlin as former Vikings coordinators who went on to lead AFC North teams to Super Bowl titles.
*An ankle injury to Kyler Murray thrust former Gophers QB Chris Streveler, most recently of University of South Dakota and Canadian Football League fame, into the spotlight. Streveler, as Murray's backup, came in and threw a TD pass but also a terrible pick six at the end of the first half that turned the game around.
Murray later returned after, uh, he "let some things kick in" (code: the heavy painkillers the NFL doesn't like to talk about). But the Cardinals lost 18-7 and missed out on the playoffs. CBS analyst Boomer Esiason drew the ire of an entire country by mocking Streveler's CFL roots, by the way.
*In a game with zero playoff implications, the Raiders had the decency to go for a two-point conversion with the game on the line in the closing seconds. They made it and defeated the Broncos 32-31.
*If you are the gambling sort and had a wagering interest in the total points scored in Seahawks/49ers game, you probably had a massive mood swing in the final quarter. The over-under total for the game was 46. Entering the final quarter, the score was 9-6 in favor of the 49ers. A safe bet for the under, right? Yeah, until the teams combined for 34 points in the final 15 minutes to either crush that under bet or give you a miracle over win.
*And finally: Buffalo scored eight touchdowns on Sunday in a 56-26 rout of Miami. And not a single one of them came from last week's hero and ex-Viking Stefon Diggs. Sure, he only played one half. But he still had seven catches and was part of four TD drives.