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Vikings Clinch by Going from 1st 'Miracle' to Mammoth Comeback in 4 Hours

MINNEAPOLIS — Tommy Kramer and Ahmad Rashad — the connection for the Miracle at the Met — sounded the Gjallarhorn before Saturday to announce the Vikings were coming.

Kirk Cousins and K.J. Osborn announced in the third quarter that the Vikings were coming back — and bringing friends.

Instead of Squadron Right and the 46-yard Hail Mary from Kramer to Rashad on the game's final play to secure the NFC Central 42 years and three days ago, it was Greg Joseph right down the middle from 40 yards to secure a 39-36 overtime victory that conquered the 2022 NFC North crown.

The Vikings (11-3) overcame a 33-0 halftime deficit with a level of determination that's stitched on their jerseys, through their shoulder pads and into their hearts.

After a first half with just three first downs, a fumble, an interception returned for a touchdown, an apparent fumble return for a touchdown that was taken from the Vikings and being outgained 209-82, the Vikings again didn't blink.

They didn't tank.

They didn't blame.

They rallied, beginning with words from Patrick Peterson, able to enjoy his second division title with a team in 12 seasons and first since 2015 with Arizona.

They prevailed in the 1,000th game in franchise history (including regular season and playoff games), which lasted four hours and one minute.

"Patrick Peterson, I'll never forget it as long as I live," O'Connell said. "I addressed the team before we went back out there. I overheard him walk over toward 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 in from.

"I said, 'Pat, you're exactly right.' That's what we needed at the time," O'Connell added. "It was probably the most motivated I've been to challenge our players just so that they just knew, regardless of the outcome today, that first half was not good enough, and it will never be acceptable to have that kind of performance regardless of the outcome today. Nobody's happier to be NFC North champions, the way we earned it. I think it will stick with a lot of us for a long time. There's still a lot to go back and make sure that we rectify and continue to improve."

If fans blinked in the second half, they missed key stop after stop by Minnesota's defense and touchdown after touchdown by the offense.

View postgame celebration photos from Minnesota's comeback overtime victory over Indianapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 17, 2022. The Vikings (11-3) have clinched the NFC North Championship following their 39-36 win vs. the Colts.

The Vikings outscored the Colts 36-3 in the final 30 minutes of regulation to force overtime by cleaning up miscues, making plays and refusing to quit.

Indianapolis (4-9-1) was limited to 102 net yards (70 rushing, 32 passing) in the second half and went 1-for-8 on third downs.

It was certainly a tough climb, particularly considering Chandon Sullivan's second apparent fumble return touchdown was negated because officials whistled the play dead.

Nonetheless, the Vikings completed the largest comeback in NFL history (regular season or playoffs), topping the 32-point comeback that Frank Reich, who was fired earlier this season by Indianapolis, orchestrated for Buffalo against the Houston Oilers in January 1993. The Bills came back from 35-3 to win 41-38 in overtime.

It also topped a 24-point comeback by the Vikings that started in the third quarter of a game against the 49ers on Dec. 4, 1977. Kramer led that one, too, with a touchdown to Rashad and a 69-yard winner to Sammy White, who was interviewed during Saturday's game.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was limited to 43 yards on 6-of-12 passing with an interception and passer rating of 24.0 in the first half. Punter Ryan Wright totaled a passer rating of 39.6 on the day after an incompletion on a fake punt.

"My thoughts weren't great at halftime," Cousins said candidly. "I just felt like we were losing in a lot of ways, and it wasn't good.

"Patrick Peterson made the comment, 'We only need five touchdowns.' I didn't know if he was being sarcastic or what. When I looked at him, he was serious," Cousins added. "I think his point was, 'We're not going to let them score anymore, so if you can get five touchdowns, that will be good enough.' I'm kind of a one-play-at-a-time guy. 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.' 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."

The Vikings made things respectable thanks to a 63-yard reception by K.J. Osborn that jumpstarted the comeback with 8:22 remaining in the third quarter. Osborn capped that drive with a 2-yard catch from Cousins.

Minnesota answered a field goal by the Colts with 4:53 left in the third quarter with a touchdown drive that C.J. Ham ended with a 1-yard rush.

That eight-play drive lasted 3:40 and made it 36-14.

An 8-yard pass to Justin Jefferson made it 36-21 with 12:53 to go, continuing to boost the believability and mathematical possibility.

Adam Thielen's 1-yard reception from Cousins made it 36-28 with 5:30 to go.

Then it was time to win — or in this case tie — the game in the fourth quarter.

Facing fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 36, the Colts opted for a QB sneak by Matt Ryan, who was stopped short by Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks.

View game action photos of the Week 15 matchup between the Vikings and the Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota then set up a beautiful screen pass to Dalvin Cook, who rumbled the distance with some help from hustling left guard Ezra Cleveland for a 64-yard score. Cousins tied it with a 2-point conversion pass to T.J. Hockenson.

"It's a great play call, first of all. Incredibly well-blocked to get a screen like that off," Cousins said. "Then it was Dalvin showing why he's Dalvin Cook. To be able to not only get a big play there but finish with a touchdown. Love to see Ezra Cleveland there basically willing him into the end zone, as well.

"I thought that play encapsulated a lot of who Dalvin is," Cousins said. "I said to him in the locker room, 'I've been in a front-row seat for the best plays in your career over the last five years. That might have been my favorite.' It wasn't a run; it was a catch. But he had a couple other big catches today. 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."

O'Connell called the screen a "season-defining kind of play in that moment where you had to have it."

A tie would have done the trick, with regard to clinching the NFC North, but O'Connell wanted to win the game and Minnesota's first division crown since 2017 outright.

"It was very much in my head. That's why the last time we got the ball, we started the drive out with a run," O'Connell said. "All I wanted to see is can we get a new set of downs? Can we very, conservatively is the wrong word, because I felt strongly about the calls, but can we eat some clock and have the mindset when we get the first first down? I trust Kirk wholeheartedly in those moments. He made a few throws to flip the field.

"Regardless of how any particular phase has been up to this point, I wanted to win this football game," O'Connell added. "I thought our team earned the right to win the game. How about Greg (Joseph) knocking it in from, what was it, 40. A no doubter. As soon as it hit his foot, I knew it was in."

It may have been the surest moment of the game.