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5 Takeaways: Vikings Outcome Determined on Final Play for 3rd Straight Week

MINNEAPOLIS — These Vikings aren't for the faint of heart, at least not over the past three weeks.

Minnesota rallied for a 27-23 win Sunday over Denver, overcoming a 20-point halftime deficit — which is tied for the fourth-largest comeback in franchise history.

Furthermore, NFL teams who trailed by at least 20 points at halftime were an astounding 0-99 over the past five seasons.

You can now make that 1-99 after a wild second half in which the Vikings outscored Denver, 27-3.

But the Vikings surely aren't making things easy on their fans either, as Minnesota's games have now come down to the final play of the game three consecutive weeks.

The Vikings are 2-1 in such games, with dramatic wins at Dallas and against Denver. Minnesota lost in Kansas City on a field goal at the buzzer in Week 9.

Safety Jayron Kearse ensured Denver's final pass from the 4-yard line was incomplete Sunday. And it was Kearse who picked off the final throw in the end zone last week in Dallas.

The Vikings are now 8-3, and have proven their mettle in recent weeks by gutting out dramatic wins. That could help once the playoffs roll around in January.

"Shoot, games are close, man. We've had some games down go to the wire. We played in one last week, honestly," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "You've got to come out on top, and it tells you what your team is made of. Who's going to come up big in those moments? [It shows] how much fight we have, how much heart."

Here are four other takeaways:

1. Defense allows big plays

Denver racked up 394 yards of offense Sunday, including 270 net yards through the air from quarterback Brandon Allen.

It seemed as if most of those yards came on a handful plays, as the Broncos moved the ball down the field with five big chunk plays, including a handful in the first quarter.

Denver's longest play of the game was 48 yards on a pass from Allen to Courtland Sutton in the first quarter. The Broncos wide receiver also had a 43-yard reception in the final stanza.

Sutton also showed off his arm on a trick play, as he took a reverse and hit wide receiver Tim Patrick for a 38-yard gain in the opening quarter.

Allen also hit tight end Noah Fant for 31 yards, and Patrick for 29 yards in the game.

Of the 270 net passing yards the Vikings allowed, 189 of them [a whopping 70 percent] came on just five plays.

2. Ups and downs on crucial downs

Kearse's final stop came on third down, and capped off a successful day for the Vikings in that category. Denver converted just five of 18 attempts on third downs, including just two of 10 conversions in the second half.

The Vikings were especially stout in the fourth quarter, as Denver converted just once on seven third downs.

Trae Waynes made a key tackle for loss for minus-5 yards on third-and-1 early in the quarter, before a third-and-7 pass for Denver gained just four yards.

The Broncos did convert on third-and-13, but pressure by Danielle Hunter on third-and-6 forced an Allen incompletion. Allen was also incomplete on the ensuing third-and-6 throw, followed by a Waynes' tackle that limited Denver to 4 yards on third-and-5.

Kearse, of course, then sealed the deal by forcing an incompletion on a pass to Fant in the end zone on the game's final play.

But while the Vikings were good on third downs Sunday, Denver had an answer on fourth downs, where the Broncos were a perfect 4-for-4.

Denver gained a yard on a running play on fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter, and then converted three times — twice on fourth-and-6 and once on fourth-and-1 — on the game's final possession.

Minnesota's offense was just one of six in the first half on third downs. But the Vikings ended up converting five of 12 chances, going 4-for-6 in the second half.

The Vikings were also perfect on fourth downs, with Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook each moving the chains on the ground on fourth-and-1.

3. Special teams miscues — By Lindsey Young

It's fair to say that the Vikings made mistakes in all three phases on Sunday, particularly in the first half. But worth noting is a string of miscues by Minnesota's special teams that Ameer Abdullah emphasized postgame cannot happen moving forward.

Abdullah fumbled a kickoff return late in the second quarter, giving the Broncos possession at the Vikings 17. Fortunately, Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo intercepted Allen to ensure Denver did not capitalize on the turnover. In addition, Mike Hughes muffed two punt returns; he recovered his own fumble during the second quarter, and linebacker Eric Wilson recovered another mis-handled ball in the fourth.

Then with six minutes left in the game, the Vikings allowed Diontae Spencer to return a kickoff 42 yards and give Denver favorable field position.

A bright spot in the Vikings special teams performance were the specialists. Punter Britton Colquitt punted five times, averaging and netting 47.2 yards per boot, and kicker Dan Bailey was 3-for-3 on PATs, surpassing 1,000 career points.

4. Momentum slowly builds to explosion – By Craig Peters

After being stymied in the first half and not having a single play gain more than 14 yards on offense, the Vikings were able to connect on multiple explosive pass plays in the second half.

The spree might have started with a 44-yarder from Cousins to Stefon Diggs down the left sideline on Minnesota's first possession of the second half. Two plays later, Minnesota reached the end zone for the first time on a 10-yard pass from Cousins to Irv Smith, Jr.

But there also was a little bit of rhythm gained in the final 52 seconds of the first half.

Minnesota was trying to execute in the 2-minute drill, and Cousins connected for gains of 10 and 14 yards to make it to midfield.

A screen pass was sniffed out by the Broncos for a loss of 3, and Cousins was sacked for a loss of 10 to end the opportunity for points.

The Vikings, however, were able to score touchdowns on all four of their second half possessions thanks in part to slowly building momentum.

A 20-yard pass on a third-and-14 eventually led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Cook.

The next two scores were of 54 yards to Diggs and 32 yards to Kyle Rudolph. The score to Rudolph — the 46th and third-longest of his career — was set up with a 21-yard gain on a screen to Cook to start the game-winning drive.