The more fortunate among us are fond of saying that people make their own luck, but reality reveals that luck typically charts a more random path independent of our actions.
What appears to be particularly lucky (or unlucky) at a certain point in time is likely influenced more by sample size and an inadequate opportunity for things to even out than it is by any certain favor bestowed upon one entity.
With that in mind, consider the plight of the 2020 Vikings and this idea: They were pushed to the brink of extinction – at least in any sort of realistic playoff sense – by miserable luck in two key and quite random facets of football.
One of them continued in blistering fashion on Sunday. The Vikings have been unlucky virtually all season when it comes to recovering fumbles, and it doesn't get much worse than it did against Carolina when they lost fumbles on consecutive offensive plays – with both returned for touchdowns! – and then had a muffed punt covered by the Panthers to seemingly seal their fate.
But the other element of bad luck that had stuck with them all season changed just in time to allow them to escape with a 28-27 victory: An opponent missed a field goal, and a big one at that. Joey Slye's 54-yard attempt – twice as far as Blair Walsh's fateful miss in the 2015 playoffs and wide left by perhaps as much as well – was just the third missed field goal of the season by a Vikings opponent.
The second came earlier in the game when the Vikings blocked a Slye attempt. The only other miss was a 46-yarder by Matt Prater a few weeks ago when Minnesota beat Detroit, as kickers entered Sunday having made 24 of 25 field goals against the Vikings.
Through Week 10, per Sharp Football, Vikings opponents had made 3.1 more field goals this season than would have been expected based on distance and league accuracy marks. No other team in the NFL had worse luck at that point on opponent field goals.
At that same Week 10 benchmark, the Vikings had recovered 2.1 fewer fumbles than expected. Only three NFL teams had worse luck corralling an oblong ball in 2020.
If Sunday had played out the way the rest of the year was trending, the 1-2 punch of fumble luck and field goal luck would have finished off the Vikings.
(And indeed would have carried on a 60-season tradition, Vikings fans might say, in which the purple have never once benefitted from any sort of good fortune).
Instead, Slye gave them a reprieve.
Sure, a 54-yarder is hardly a certainty. But NFL kickers have made 84 of 122 (69%) from that distance this season. Kicking indoors on turf in an empty stadium, Vikings kicker Dan Bailey had calmly drilled a 53-yarder at the end of the half to give Minnesota a 10-7 lead.
An NFL kicker more often than not makes that kick. Against the Vikings this season, opponents had been a perfect 5-for-5 from 50 yards or more before that Slye attempt — including a 3-for-3 mark from that distance for Stephen Gostkowski in a 31-30 Titans win over the Vikings earlier this year.
But after all the twists and turns Sunday, including a brilliant go-ahead touchdown drive engineered by Kirk Cousins and capped with 46 seconds left, it was good old-fashioned luck that kept alive whatever hopes the Vikings have of making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in more than a decade.
It was fitting that the final difference was one point — the Vikings' third such margin this season after not playing a one-point game since, you guessed it, that infamous Walsh miss five years ago.
Unless you consider Slye getting his cleat stuck in the U.S. Bank Stadium turf to be an example of making your own luck – it is the Vikings' home stadium, after all – the only thing left to conclude is that the random nature of fortune and the NFL happened to go the Vikings' way for a change.