The Vikings wanted to finish out the season on a high note, and they certainly did so with an entertaining game against the division-rival Lions.
Minnesota finished the shootout on top, defeating Detroit 37-35 thanks in part to Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson each hitting offensive milestones.
After starting out slowly and punting on their first three possessions, a 2-minute drive to finish out the first half reset the tone for the Vikings.
Minnesota trailed 16-14 got the ball at its own 21-yard line with 55 seconds left in the second quarter, and Cousins completed five consecutive passes to Jefferson (8 yards), Chad Beebe (4), Ameer Abdullah (loss of 3), Adam Thielen (14) and Tyler Conklin (10).
A fumble out of bounds by Conklin, however, meant the clock kept rolling; after an incompletion to Jefferson and offsides penalty called on former Viking Everson Griffen, the Vikings had just 11 seconds and 40 yards between them and the end zone.
Cousins launched a deep pass to Beebe, who made the catch near the sideline at the 20-yard line and stayed on his feet despite significant contact from Lions defensive backs Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts. Beebe turned up-field and sprinted past Jefferson, who hopped backwards out of his teammate's way, and Lions safety Duron Harmon, who seemingly was caught off-guard.
"That'll do," FOX play-by-play announcer Joe Davis said as Beebe stepped into the Honolulu Blue paint.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer called it a "great" play and compared it, at least stylistically, to one Minnesota fans will remember quite well.
"Really, we were trying to get the ball out of bounds. It kind of reminded a little bit of the [Minneapolis] Miracle play," Zimmer said. "[Beebe] caught the ball, they missed the tackle and then he ran it in. That helped."
The touchdown gave Minnesota a 21-16 advantage – and a much-needed spark – heading into halftime.
"That was a big play. That play sort of covered over the slow start we had [and] kind of made up for a whole bunch of mistakes that I had made or that we had made early in the game. If you don't make that play, then you're feeling those mistakes at halftime," Cousins said. "But because Beebe was able to make that play, stay in-bounds and go for the end zone, it just flipped the thing so quickly.
"We talk almost every week about how one play can be the difference, and that was a great example of one play at the end of the half with no timeouts – they know it, they're likely going to play the sideline and take it away and the ball's likely to be thrown away and now you're kicking a 57-yard field goal," Cousins continued. "Suddenly Chad Beebe makes a tremendous play and ends up in the end zone. It's certainly not what I expected, but I'm glad I threw it. And just a great job by him and fun to see him show what he can do, but he just has to get more opportunities. Another player that I'm excited about building a rapport going forward with."
Jefferson commented candidly on the play.
"I looked back and saw the ball thrown, and then I got hit somehow by the safety and all of a sudden I see 'Beebs' running down the sideline," he laughed. "I'm definitely happy that he made that play, but I was so confused, I didn't know what was going on."
The Vikings have at times struggled in 2-minute situations this season; Sunday marked their second touchdown in pre-halftime 2-minute drills, with the first one also occurring against the Lions in Week 9.
The Week 17 score gave Minnesota a boost in a game that included eight lead changes and helped the Vikings rack up 508 net yards.
After a slow start, the Vikings capped four of their final eight possessions with touchdowns, including a 1-yard run by Cousins and a 4-yard reception by Ameer Abdullah, whose two scores this season were recorded against his former team.
Dan Bailey missed a 46-yard field goal on one drive, made a 23-yarder on another, and Minnesota finished the game in victory formation.
Cousins completed 28 of 40 passes for a season-high 405 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 127.6. His trio of passing touchdowns made Cousins just the second quarterback in franchise history to throw 35 or more in a season, surpassing Randall Cunningham's 34 in 1998. Daunte Culpepper holds the team record with 39 in 2004.
In addition, Cousins' 17 career games with 300-plus passing yards, three-plus touchdowns and a passer rating of 115.0 or higher are the most in the first nine seasons of a quarterback's career in NFL history.
Cousins declined to say much about the milestones, saying he'd much rather have seeing Minnesota make it to the playoffs.
"There were plays that I left out there today, throws that I missed that I'm beating myself up over, and you look back on the season and can do the same thing," he said. "It's nice to have positive statistics, but ultimately that's not what it's really about.
"Ultimately you want to win games, and that's where my focus is and will be going forward," Cousins continued. "Figuring out what are the little things that you can do better to make sure those losses turn into wins. That's always where my mind will go."
The Vikings were without Dalvin Cook, whose father James passed away unexpectedly this past week.
Alexander Mattison played admirably in Cook's stead, leading Minnesota with 95 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. He also added 50 receiving yards (one yard short of his career high) and grabbed his first career score through the air.
Jefferson said it "meant a lot" to finish the season with a win for Cook. The rookie said he texted Cook before the game to let him know his teammates are praying for him and that they had his back.
"I can't imagine losing my father, especially during the season like this, that's very tough. For him to go through that, I don't wish that on anybody," Jefferson said. "We definitely played this game for Dalvin, and we wanted to get this 'Dub' for him."
Jefferson certainly did that and more.
He racked up nine catches for 133 yards and in doing so broke two more records. Jefferson finished the season with an even 1,400 yards, surpassing Anquan Boldin's 1,377 in 2003 and establishing a new NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie. He also outdid Randy Moss' 1,313 yards in 1998 earlier in the game, breaking the franchise record while wearing custom-designed kicks in respect to the Hall of Famer.
"I had to honor him," Jefferson said. "I had a good chance to break the record today, so I had to put him on the cleats."
View game action photos as the Vikings take on the Lions in Detroit for the 2020 season finale.
He added with a smile: "I've gotta get him to sign them so I can put them in my trophy case."
Zimmer spoke highly of Jefferson but directed his praise less to the record books and more to the youngster's talent and character.
"Jefferson's a good player. I love the way he competes," Zimmer said. "He catches everything. He's continually getting better and better and better. He's a great weapon to have and should be for many, many years.
"I haven't talked to him about records and things like that," he later added. "I don't know if he really worries too much about those things. He just likes to play football. He made one catch on the sideline today reaching, way out to get it – those kind of plays are the impressive ones to me. There's been several throughout the course of the year where guys are draped all over him and he comes down with the ball because he's got such good catch radius. He's a big kid, runs fast, and I think he'll continue to get better and better."
Although the season didn't end the way Zimmer and the Vikings hoped it would, there's plenty to be optimistic about as the team turns to the page to 2021.
"[It's] good to end the season with a win and have a better taste in your mouth on the flight home," Cousins said. "There's certainly a lot to build on offensively from what we were able to do this year and this week. I'm encouraged about moving forward with what we can do and who we can be."