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Lunchbreak: Analyzing How the North was Won Through Historic Comeback vs. Colts

The Minnesota Vikings continue to break records this season.

After setting one with seven consecutive one-score victories, the Vikings toppled another record Saturday that had stood for 30 years.

Kicker Greg Joseph's 40-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in overtime capped a 39-36 victory for Minnesota over Indianapolis in a game where the Vikings rallied from a 33-point halftime deficit, marking the largest comeback victory in NFL history.

The win also secured the NFC North title for Minnesota (11-3) and a playoff berth.

Similar to asking a magician after they perform a trick, how did the Vikings do it?

Matthew Coller of Purple Insider looked at several factors that helped Minnesota rally, starting with the Vikings team message at halftime.

Offensively, Minnesota recorded only 82 yards in the first half, including just 27 passing yards. The Vikings drives ended in three punts (one blocked for a touchdown), two turnovers on downs, a fumble, a pick-six and a kneel right before the half.

On the other side, the Vikings defense only allowed one red zone touchdown, but Colts kicker Chase McLaughlin connected on four field goals to build Indianapolis' 33-point halftime lead.

View frame-by-frame photos of RB Dalvin Cook's 64-yard touchdown to tie the Week 15 game vs. the Colts. The Vikings (11-3) clinched the 2022 NFC North Championship with the comeback overtime victory.

When the Vikings went into their locker room, they needed some form of inspiration. Enter cornerback Patrick Peterson.

"I'll never forget it as long as I live," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "I addressed the team before we went back out there. I overheard [Patrick] walk over towards the offense, 'We're going to get stops, you just need five touchdowns. That's nothing.' It was a nice little moment for me to lead right from. I said, 'Pat, you're exactly right.' That's what we needed at the time."

Prior to Saturday's game, the Vikings defense had allowed more than 400 yards of offense to opponents in five consecutive games. Against the Colts, Minnesota gave up just 341 yards — including 132 total yards in the second half and overtime combined.

Peterson and the defense held up their end of the bargain in the second half. The Colts kicked one field goal, punted six times, fumbled and had a turnover on downs after going up by 33.

Just like they did so many times before throughout the season, the Vikings came up with huge defensive plays when they needed them. Coller wrote:

One of the defensive stops that changed the game came with eight minutes remaining in the game. [Quarterback Kirk] Cousins threw an interception and the Colts started at their own 2-yard line. They went three-and-out and only took 56 seconds off the clock. The Vikings responded with a five play, 50-yard drive to cut the lead to one score.

The turnover on downs came in a situation where allowing one yard would have ended the game and then the Vikings scored a 64-yard touchdown on the following play.

While Minnesota's defense was doing its job, Coller said Cousins and the Vikings offense had to do the same and execute the halftime message delivered by Peterson.

Cousins' approach in the second half was a simple one: just take things one play at a time.

"My mindset is, 'Tell me the first play of the second half and let me execute that as well as I can. You tell me the second play once we get there,' " Cousins said. "Whenever I've been a part of comebacks like we've had through the years, that's kind of the way I operate. One play at a time and let's not get too far down the road."

What followed was a performance for the ages by Cousins.

In the second half, Cousins completed 21 of his 33 pass attempts for 330 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He finished the game 34-of-54 for a career-high 460 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.

Cousins now has seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season, which is tied for second-most in a single season behind Matthew Stafford's eight with the Lions in 2016 according to Pro Football Reference. Cousins also has 21 comebacks in the fourth in his career, tying him for 27th in the NFL.

Coller noted both wide receiver K.J Osborn and running back Dalvin Cook came up big as pass catchers for Cousins.

Of Cousins' 54 pass attempts, 16 went to Osborn. He hauled in 10 receptions for 157 yards — his first career 100-yard game — and the Vikings first touchdown of the game with 8:22 left in the third quarter.

"I told K.J. a few weeks back that his time was coming," O'Connell said. "Regardless with how our offense is evolving, his value to us, I just knew it would happen. I didn't necessarily envision is maybe the scenario that played out today. But think back. Some of those catches, conversions, his willingness to catch, get north, the yards after catch, critical plays for our team. People won't see some of the blocking that he did, helping spring some of those underneath completions."

Cook's 64-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown prior to the tying 2-point conversion by tight end T.J. Hockenson with 2:15 left in regulation will forever be remembered when talking about the Vikings comeback.

"It's a great play call, first of all, incredibly well-blocked to get a screen like that off, then it was Dalvin showing why he's Dalvin Cook," Cousins said.

Cook hasn't been as big of a factor through the air as expected but he ended the comeback win with 95 yards receiving and added another 95 on the ground.

"He had a couple other big catches," Cousins said. "It's fun to think back on all the times I got to see him be a special player in this league and then to think that's probably the top one for me is fun."

Coller added in overtime, the Vikings could have settled for the tie when they got the ball back with 1:41 left.

O'Connell considered running the clock out because a tie would solidify their position as division champions. He decided to start with a run and then make his call from there about whether to be aggressive.

"It was very much in my head," O'Connell said. "That's why the last time we got the ball, we started the drive out with a run. All I wanted to see is: can we get a new set of downs?

When Cook gained six yards on the ensuing play, O'Connell went for the win instead.

"There's moments where it says a lot of about your confidence in your team," O'Connell said. "I wanted to win this football game. I thought our team earned the right to win the game."

CBS Sports Gives Out Grades for Week 15

The Vikings historic comeback victory sparked a weekend of NFL games filled with down-to-the-wire finishes.

Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports analyzed every Saturday game from Week 15 and provided grades for each team. Kerr gave the Vikings a 'B+' for their game. He wrote:

When you fall down 33-0 for the largest home halftime deficit in franchise history, an 'A' becomes unattainable. However, the Vikings came as close as they could to earning that 'A' thanks to the largest comeback in NFL history — 33 points as they outscored the Colts 39-3 after the break. Kirk Cousins overcoming his two interceptions — including a pick-six — to throw for a career-high 460 yards and four scores is the definition of resilience. Hats off to the 2022 NFC North division champions, the Minnesota Vikings.