What makes an NFL season special for a team? It goes far beyond the usual comment about one team winning the Super Bowl to go with 31 failures that did not.
If that was the only thing that mattered, the chances are that the Vikings will be remembered for their shortcomings in 2022. The Vikings are not better than the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Head coach Kevin O’Connell’s team will likely fall short, just like every other version of this franchise that began competing in 1961.
That’s not a great way to look at the season. If the Vikings don’t win the Super Bowl, the last memory of the 2022 season – some time in 2023 – will end on a disappointing note. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t magical things happening that make the current season a success.
The Vikings are 11-0 in one-score games this season, and that’s a remarkable achievement. There is a factor of luck involved, but that’s not the decisive factor. There’s a collective belief in the locker room and the coaching room that the players will do whatever it takes in the fourth quarter or overtime to win the game.
In the 27-24 victory over the New York Giants, the decisive play was a record-setting 61-yard field goal by Greg Joseph. The kicker has struggled on extra points at various points throughout the season, sent a Christmas Eve miracle through the uprights that would have been good from 64 or 65 yards.
Prior to that, veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson demonstrated that experience really does matter. That’s a bromide that is regularly accepted as truth, but there are few specific examples. Peterson got beaten several times earlier in the game by wideout Isaiah Hodgins of the Giants, and the youngster was not hesitant to open up his mouth and trash talk in Peterson’s direction.
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There was not a bit of hesitation to Peterson’s game, and he was clearly amused by Hodgins’ cheek. He let the receiver know his moment was coming, and that an interception was coming.
“I just told him to be patient,” Peterson said. “Trust me, I am going to get a pick today.”
Peterson’s decisive moment came in the fourth quarter with the Vikings leading 17-13. New York quarterback Daniel Jones was leading a drive, and Peterson sliced by Hodgins at the Minnesota 32 yard line. Instead of letting the Giants take the lead, Peterson brought momentum back to the Vikings.
As usual, Justin Jefferson had his moment as well. He is the best receiver in the NFL this season, and it goes far beyond the numbers – which are quite eye catching.
The Giants learned this first hand, as he caught 12 passes for 133 yards and a 4th quarter touchdown. He has caught 123 passes for 1,756 yards and 8 touchdowns for the season. His first catch of the day allowed him to pass Randy Moss for most receiving yardage by any Vikings receiver in a season.
In addition to his pinpoint skills that include sensational hands, a tap dancer’s feet and superior leaping ability that allows him to high point the ball, Jefferson plays with a hunger that few other receivers demonstrate.
After making a move to get open or finding a way to stay in bounds, Jefferson does not look for safety. He will absorb contact and keep on gaining yards. This is the opposite way many great receivers play –Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison comes immediately to mind.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins marvels at the toughness and hunger that Jefferson shows every week. “His ability to get north, toe-tap and get the first — it’s so subtle,” Cousins said. “But I can’t tell you how many guys go out there. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a pretty good play right there.’”
Cousins himself is a major part of this remarkable season. It’s not the huge passing numbers, because he has had better statistical seasons in which he has thrown more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions.
It’s that Cousins has shown he will stay in the pocket, take a big hit and deliver an on-target pass. Cousins has been hit 125 times this year, and that’s more than any other quarterback in the league.
His teammates know what he has been through this season, and how many time he has come through. He is respected in the locker room, and his confidence level when the game is on the line has never been higher.
So, feel free to disrespect the Vikings for the 3 bad losses they have on their ledger. Elven of the team’s 12 victories have come from the razor’s edge, and the Viking have a belief in themselves that few teams can match when the game is on the line.