EAGAN, Minn. — If the Vikings season-ending 37-35 win over the Lions felt stressful, well, it's because it was.
Minnesota improved to 7-9 by edging out Detroit in a game that featured seven lead changes, and also saw two combined missed extra points and a pair of failed Lions 2-point conversions.
But the close win — in a game without playoff implications for either team — also essentially told the story of the 2020 Vikings, who seemed to be locked in a close battle that came down to the wire most weeks.
All in all, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's team had 10 games that were decided by one possession (eight or fewer points) in the 2020 season, coming within one of the 11 such games combined from 2018-19.
The Vikings went 6-4 in those 10 games, which was the most under Zimmer in his seven seasons in charge. The previous high was nine games in 2014. The Vikings won four of those and also finished 7-9.
Six of the games were decided by three or fewer points, with Minnesota suffering 1-point losses against Tennessee and at Seattle. The Vikings lost by three at home to the Cowboys before winning their next two contests by a combined four points.
Zimmer spoke about the Vikings penchant for being in close games this past season.
"I think that, usually in the NFL, each game is going to come down to one possession," Zimmer said. "I do think these guys, especially the young guys, being in this position of tight ball games … I think the experience of them having to do that will help them be better in those situations.
"I know I wasn't able to work on those things as much as we have in the past. Usually it's every day in OTAs and every day we go out there, we work on end-of-game situations," Zimmer added. "With the shortened time, we weren't able to do it near as much. Those are things we all have to continue to do."
Across the NFL in 2020, 136 of the 256 regular-season games (53.1 percent) were decided by one possession. The highest total came in Week 15 with 10 such games, including a 33-27 Vikings loss to the Bears at home.
If Minnesota had won that game, the Vikings would have made the playoffs as the seventh seed … a spot that the Bears ended up claiming.
"I think there [were] possibilities that we could've had a better record, but you say that every year," said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. "You look back at games you shoulda, coulda won, right, but at the end of the day your record is your record.
"So, it is what it is," Thielen added. "We've got to move on and figure out a way to not let that happen again."
Here's a closer look at the 10 close games that helped define Minnesota's 2020 season:
Week 3, 31-30 home loss to Titans
The Vikings led 17-9 at halftime but couldn't hold the lead against the eventual AFC South champions. Minnesota led 30-28 with just over six minutes left, but gained just 12 yards in five plays before punting the ball away. The Titans kicked a go-ahead, 55-yard field goal with 1 minute and 44 seconds left, and the Vikings last-gasp drive ended with an interception.
Week 4, 31-23 road win over Texans
The Vikings notched their first win of the 2020 season in thrilling fashion, as Minnesota's defense held firm on a goal-to-go stand in the final 90 seconds. Houston was awarded a touchdown pass on a fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, but the play was reviewed and overturned.
Week 5, 27-26 road loss to Seahawks
This one will be remembered for a failed chance on a fourth-and-1 run deep in Seattle territory, and the ensuing collapse by the defense in which the unit allowed a 94-yard scoring drive (and go-ahead 2-point attempt) in 102 seconds. But the Vikings also led 13-0 at halftime before a disastrous third quarter. Dalvin Cook got hurt on the opening snap, and Minnesota's three drives end in a punt, fumble and an interception. The Seahawks ended the season as the NFC West champion and No. 3 seed.
Week 8, 28-22 road win over Packers
Minnesota rode a red-hot Cook to a win in this one, as he had 216 total yards and four scores, including 163 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. In response to blustery and windy conditions at Lambeau Field, the Vikings attempted just 14 passes on the day. This victory was the start of a three-game win streak, all against NFC North opponents.
Week 10, 19-13 road win over Bears
The Vikings eked out a win at Soldier Field behind a strong defensive performance in which Minnesota allowed just 149 yards on Monday Night Football. Minnesota's offense did just enough against a stout Chicago defense, as Cook (96 rushing yards) and Justin Jefferson (136 receiving yards) helped lead the way.
Week 11, 31-28 home loss to Cowboys
The wind in Minnesota's sails disappeared at home a week later as the Vikings saw their three-game win streak come to an end. Minnesota topped Dallas in time of possession and total yards, but a pair of turnovers, eight penalties for 80 yards and an allowed conversion on a fourth-and-6 hindered the Vikings from getting a win.
Week 12, 28-27 home win over Panthers
The Vikings squeaked this one out at home, but it was one of the team's poorest wins over the season. Minnesota led 10-7 at the half, and then allowed defensive scores by the Panthers on back-to-back plays to open the second half. But Kirk Cousins rallied his team with a pair of second-half touchdown passes, including one to Chad Beebe with less than a minute to go. Even still, the Vikings could only exhale when Carolina missed a 54-yard field goal as time expired.
Week 13, 27-24 overtime home win over Jaguars
Minnesota needed nearly 69 minutes to get a win against a Jacksonville team that finished the 2020 season with a 15-game losing streak and currently has the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Vikings appeared to sleepwalk through the first half on the way to a 9-0 deficit, but rallied to a 24-16 lead late in the fourth quarter. But Minnesota's defense couldn't stop a game-tying drive from quarterback Jaguars third-string quarterback Mike Glennon. A Harrison Smith interception in overtime led to eight straight runs by Cook … and a game-winning, 23-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
Week 15, 33-27 home loss to Bears
As mentioned above, the Vikings would have made the playoffs if this result went their way. But the defense surrendered 199 rushing yards (a season-worst at the time), and allowed Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to beat them with his arm and legs. Minnesota was also doomed by another slow start, as it trailed 20-10 at the half. The Vikings offense also had two chances to take the lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but both drives came up short.
Week 17, 37-35 road win over Lions
The Vikings capped the 2020 season with a close win, as the offense put up a season-high 508 yards, including 405 passing yards and four total touchdowns (three passing) from Cousins. Jefferson had 133 receiving yards to set a Super Bowl-era record and put a stamp on his stellar rookie season. A depleted Vikings defense did struggle, as the unit allowed 100-plus rushing yards for the 12th time in 2020 … and also gave up seven passing plays of at least 20 yards. But in what was a roller-coaster season, the Vikings ended it on a positive note with a win.