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Action Reaction: Vikings Help Playoff Likelihood with Unlikely Plays

There were three things that could happen in Week 16 to guarantee the Vikings would make their third trip to the NFC Playoffs in four seasons.

The first occurred Saturday, when Tennessee defeated Washington.

The second was Minnesota defeating Detroit, which they did 27-9.

The last item that the Vikings needed was for Houston to win at Philadelphia.

Vikings players gathered after their game in time to see the Eagles top the Texans on a field goal as time expired.

Minnesota's playoff fate will be pushed to the final week of the regular season when it hosts Chicago, which still has a chance at the No. 2 overall seed. The Vikings could wind up with a No. 5 or No. 6 seed — or become spectators after next week.

If the Vikings do secure a playoff berth, they'll have to play quality football on the road.

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.

Pregame question: Could the Vikings overcome a slow start in a road game?

Minnesota hadn't won a road game since Oct. 21. Slow offensive starts at Chicago, New England and Seattle contributed significantly to losses.

On Sunday, the offense went three-and-punt on its first four possessions. The Vikings first two third-down conversions of the day led to 14 points and swayed momentum in the Motor City.

In-game action:

The Vikings struggled to have good field position early in the game, beginning their first possession at their own 2-yard line, and opted to play things safe early.

A third-and-9 at the Minnesota 3 resulted in an incompletion to Stefon Diggs.

On third-and-6 at the Minnesota 29, Kirk Cousins checked into a run play on which Dalvin Cook gained 2.

A third-and-8 at the Minnesota 15 ended with a sack of Cousins.

On third-and-18 from the Minnesota 14, the Vikings opted for a run by Cook, who was able to get 9 yards to slightly improve field position before a punt.

But during the Vikings fifth possession, on a third-and-17 from the Detroit 49, Cousins was able to connect with Adam Thielen, who found an opening in the Lions defense for a gain of 40. Minnesota scored its first touchdown two plays later when Cousins hit Diggs for an 8-yard score.

The Vikings then faced a third-and-2 at the Detroit 44 with just two seconds remaining and took a shot at the end zone. Cousins put the ball on the money, and Kyle Rudolph made it look easy in high-pointing the ball for the touchdown and a 14-9 halftime lead.

Momentum swung the Vikings direction because they were able to convert unlikely plays (the Vikings were 1-for-10 at converting pass plays when needing at least 16; the Lions defense hadn't allowed an opponent to convert any of six third-and-16-plus situations with a pass). The Vikings go through the motions of a Hail Mary play each week near the end of preparations, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer instructs quarterbacks to not even throw the ball in the mock sessions.

Postgame reaction:

Cousins on the slow start:

"Field position affects it, but you can create field position for yourselves by converting first downs and moving the football," Cousins said. "It's tough when you're backed up when you want to play to get out of the end zone, then you're wasting two plays, sometimes. Then you're in third-and-long and you're dropping back into your end zone anyway.

"So that can be tough, but I felt like, many times I come back from a drive and just think about my process, you know? 'How were my reads, how were my feet, how was my decision-making, how did I handle protections, and did I throw the ball with accuracy?' And I just felt like coming out of those first few series, I felt like I was OK, I felt like I was seeing things well and was not at all in a bad place. So from that standpoint, I just felt like we needed more opportunities, and if our defense can keep us in it, as they did, then we can turn things around."

Cousins on converting the third-and-17:

"Obviously each play is its own entity, and it didn't have an impact on the future plays in any way," Cousins said. "But there's no doubt if you're punting – and the likelihood of punting on third-and-17 is pretty high – if you're punting and giving them the ball back down 9-0, you're not in a good spot, especially on the road.

"But to hit that, and not only hit it but now we're way down in scoring territory and get a touchdown, suddenly it's 9-7, and only a couple plays after that [the Hail Mary], it's a big deal," he added. "It had a huge impact on the game, and I'm glad we hit that. It's a fragile game. Plays like that, one or two swing your way or don't swing your way, it can make all the difference."

Thielen on the 40-yarder:

"I think Kirk did a really good job of looking off the high safety, and they left me free," Thielen said.

Zimmer on how the Vikings practice the Hail Mary play:

"You go through the mechanics of it. You don't really throw the ball. There's a lot of things that can happen," Zimmer said. "I remember one time when we had, you know, even a half-speed one, one of our linebackers jumped up and sprained his knee. We don't throw the ball, we just go through the mechanics and make sure you're boxing out the right guy, make sure you've got a guy over the top, make sure you've got a guy behind, in front, find the tippers. You know, you go through all that stuff."

Rudolph on the preparations:

"Obviously something that we practice every Saturday in the mock game, and we run down the field and really never throw the ball," Rudolph said. "It couldn't have worked out any better. Kirk threw an unbelievable pass. For me to run to the spot, turn, and the ball is 10 feet away, and I didn't have to move one spot off of my spot. I was able to just jump up. I joked earlier, I had a lot of rebounds in high school basketball, and at that point it just turns into another rebound. Maybe see if I can get that added to my career total in high school rebounds."

Cousins on the precision he tries to have on a Hail Mary:

"I want it to land more than two yards in, less than eight yards into the end zone, so no matter where we are on the field, that's where I'm trying to land it," Cousins said. "If Rudy gets to about five yards into the end zone and tries to be in the middle, then hopefully a good throw can connect right where we want it to, and I think in this case it was able to do that. But it goes back to, I was able to stand in the pocket and move around and then find a window to step into it.

"We had a Hail Mary against the 49ers at the end of the half in Week 1, and they brought a blitz, and we didn't pick it up well, so I ended up running and getting sacked," added Cousins, who easily negotiated a three-man rush by Detroit. "They don't always turn out the way it did today, but when you have time and get it out, you give yourself a chance."

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