DENVER – Minnesota's defense kept the Broncos out of the end zone until just before the final minute.
But Russell Wilson found gaps, bided his time and connected with his pass catchers, including Courtland Sutton for a 15-yard go-ahead touchdown that sealed Denver’s 21-20 win on Sunday Night Football.
"You play good in the red zone all day, and they got down there [with] all checkdowns, which kind of makes it even worse," safety Josh Metellus said. "[Wilson] didn't even have to push the ball down the field; it was just dink-and-dunk, dink-and-dunk. Then they get that big play.
"Defensively, we thought we were playing a really good game. [But it] could have been better," he added. "Obviously we didn't get the ball [away from] them – turnovers would have helped the game significantly – so we've still gotta be better in that aspect."
On the Broncos final drive of the evening, Minnesota almost had them stopped with a fourth-and-3, but Wilson got off a 13-yard pass to Sutton. Ivan Pace, Jr., was flagged for defensive pass interference, but Denver declined the penalty.
From there, Wilson had back-to-back completions to Samaje Perine for 10 and 17 yards, respectively, followed by a 6-yard pass to the running back. After one incompletion, Wilson hit Perine again to gain 7 just before the touchdown play.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said it "looked like we were in position" to prevent a scoring play but came up short.
Sutton high-pointed the football as rookie Mekhi Blackmon reached his right arm up to try to swipe the ball away.
"I'll look at it from the standpoint of how [Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores'] call kind of played out and what our execution was. [Sutton is] a pretty darn good player, a big target. That's where you let them get down there into the scoring range, all it takes is one pitch and catch, and they take the lead," O'Connell detailed postgame. "I know our defense hoped to try to get a stop there and not let it get to that point. I thought Russell, between using his legs and creating a little bit and then just taking the checkdown.
"There's been a lot of that on tape, where Russell has showed some patience, seen his progressions and finds the checkdown," O'Connell continued. "I thought they did a nice job of getting north off those and stealing chunks and managing that to get into scoring range."
Camryn Bynum also noted the Broncos "found open space" in the Vikings defense on that last drive.
"They were trying to attack the deep middle part of the field, the seam area, so we were taking that away, but if we get a little too much depth, especially if he's back there buying time … that makes it a farther tackle for the underneath defenders," Bynum said. "We've just gotta play full-team defense."
The Vikings had been creating takeaways over their five-game win streak but lost the turnover margin 3-0 Sunday.
Pace did force a fumble late in the game, but it rolled out of bounds just before he could recover it.
"On defense, we take pride in taking the ball. If we don't take the ball away, it makes it hard on the rest of the team," Bynum said. "We've gotta finish at the end of the game and get that big play to make the stop to win the game for us."
The Broncos were just 2-for-12 on third-down attempts, and they were forced to punt four times. Minnesota limited Denver to 1-for-5 in red zone trips, forcing them to settle four times for field goals by Wil Lutz, who also added a 52-yarder as the first half expired.
The stats overall are positive. But ultimately, the Vikings know points are points – and they headed home to the Twin Cities coming up one point short.
"We did well enough to hold them to field goals, but we pride ourselves on no points. So if we're giving up points, that's still a negative for our team," Bynum said. "It helps not giving up touchdowns, but at the end of the day, if we're giving up points regardless – if we're letting them get in field goal range – that's on us.
"We've gotta take the ball away and get those more important stops," he added. "Especially at the end of the game."
Wilson finished his outing 27-of-35 passing for 259 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was 106.7.
Sutton led the Broncos with 66 receiving yards, followed by Perine with 60 and Jerry Jeudy with 58. Denver was limited to just 46 total rushing yards.
Pace led Minnesota in tackles with nine, and he handled the "green dot" helmet duties in place of Jordan Hicks, who landed on Injured Reserve after suffering a calf injury last week that resulted in compartment syndrome and a brief hospitalization.
Troy Dye said he was impressed in Hicks' absence by the linebacker corps that included Anthony Barr, whom the Vikings signed to the practice squad earlier in the week. Barr logged one tackle on the evening.
"We definitely missed [Jordan], for sure, but I.P. stepped up in a huge way. He's been big all week. And having A.B. back has been a big help," Dye said. "I think the mentality of this team has always been 'next man up.' We trust everybody in the locker room, whether you're coming off the p-squad, whether you're coming off the street or whether you just got here three days ago."
A general consensus among Dye and the Vikings defense was fervor to get back to work and flip the page to Week 12. Minnesota is slated to host the Bears for Monday Night Football on Nov. 27.
"You've gotta go back through the tape and see what we did wrong, see the mistakes we can clean up a little bit, because there's always room for improvement – whether you win or lose," Dye said. "We've gotta have a short [memory]. It's over with now. You can't go back and change it. If we had a time machine, the world would be a lot different. We've gotta be ready for Chicago."
The defense is frustrated but not deflated. Belief in this team and Flores' system hasn't waned.
"We know we're capable of getting stops," Bynum said. "We got stops all game, limited the big plays for the most part, but at the end of the game, that's where we've got to play our best.
"[Wilson] played his best at the end of the game, and we've gotta match that and do well as a defense to not let them march down in a 2-minute drill," Bynum added. "As a defense, we've gotta fix that and come back next week even better."
The Vikings now are 6-5 as they look ahead to another NFC North game before heading into the bye.
"We've got six more opportunities. We've still got football to play, and we're still in a prime position to put ourselves right where we want to be. We've got a division game coming up next week. It's always the next-game mentality," Metellus said. "With this team, we know [who we are]. We've got confidence in our abilities, and we know we can win these games. We're just eager to get back out there."