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Efforts of Unsung Heroes Shelley & Brandel Helped Sway Vikings-Bills

EAGAN, Minn. – It's pretty impossible to boil the Vikings overtime win at Buffalo down to one thing.

The roller-coaster game, Minnesota's comeback and outlandish series of events that unfolded will be talked about for years to come. But in addition to Justin Jefferson's improbable, one-handed catch, Eric Kendricks' fumble recovery in the end zone and Patrick Peterson's game-sealing interception, another theme rose to the surface:

Unsung heroes.

Sunday's game featured big plays by positions and players across the roster. A couple of those players weren't expected to see playing time on offense or defense, though, but they answered the bell in a big way.

View postgame celebration photos following the Vikings 33-30 win in overtime vs. the Bills at Highmark Stadium.

Take Duke Shelley, for instance. The cornerback was thrust into action defensively late in the game, and he made his presence known. After Minnesota kicked a field goal on the first possession of overtime, Buffalo had a chance and drove all the way down the field to the Vikings 20-yard line. Josh Allen threw to tight end Dawson Knox in the end zone, and Shelley perfectly timed his leap and broke up the pass – just one play before Peterson picked off Allen to end the game.

For the record, Knox is listed at 6-foot-4. And Shelley? He measures in at 5-9.

"That guy has continued since day one showing up here at our facility. He's been a guy that just continues to show that he's got the ability to make those plays and that he's confident in himself, he's very smart and instinctive, applies the experience that he's had at some other stops to playing a role in our defense," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday. "I think we'll be able to find some spots for both him and Andrew [Booth, Jr.] to continue to get some playing time and get in there and help us."

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks echoed O'Connell, saying he's admired Shelley's work ethic and attitude since signing with the team's practice squad in early September. He was signed to Minnesota's 53-man roster roster Saturday when the Vikings placed Cameron Dantzler, Sr., on Injured Reserve.

"It's kind of hard for guys to come in after [training] camp because everybody's kind of been practicing together, everybody has some sort of camaraderie," Kendricks said. "But I always told him right when he got here that he's a great addition to our team and we like having him around.

"I love his energy. He does what he's supposed to do, and he was called to perform well for us this game," Kendricks continued. "You guys saw the defensive snaps he took and obviously came up big for us, but he also came up huge in special teams – and that's going to be important for guys to step up as the season goes on. It was huge. We love him."

Shelley wasn't the only one who stepped up in a big way against the Bills.

" 'By any means necessary' to win games truly means by any means necessary," O'Connell said, "and I want to make sure we talk about Blake Brandel, as well."

The Vikings reserve lineman came in at left tackle when Christian Darrisaw exited the game under concussion protocol guidelines.

Brandel was credited with playing 39 offensive snaps. He allowed just one sack, was penalized once for a false start and received an 80.2 pass-blocking grade from analytics site Pro Football Focus.

Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill emphasized that the unit really didn't miss a beat when Darrisaw – who's been playing at a very high level – needed to be replaced by Brandel.

"I'm really happy for Blake," O'Neill said. "He's one of the best teammates we have on this team. He can play all five [offensive line] positions. He came in, and he did a great job."

O'Connell also noted Brandel's performance.

"Stepping into kind of a throwing-mode type of offense [and taking] many, many snaps against one of the premier rushers in this league, and I thought Blake answered the call," O'Connell said. "Duke, Blake, you can go game-in and game-out … you can really go back and see guys being ready when their number's called … and help us win football games.

"All of that leads to a confident group that knows we've got a lot of guys that can help us win," O'Connell added. "And as long as we do our part from a preparation phase and get these guys ready to roll, we can feel confident every opportunity we get the rest of the way."

O'Connell provides injury updates on Darrisaw, Evans, Smith

In addition to Darrisaw, Vikings rookie cornerback Akayleb Evans also left the game with a concussion. Tight end T.J. Hockenson at one point was removed by an official to be evaluated but returned to the game.

O'Connell provided an update on Darrisaw and Evans, as well as on pass rusher Za'Darius Smith, who has been working through a knee contusion.

"Both Christian Darrisaw and Akayleb Evans are in concussion protocol. I don't want to get into symptoms and different speculation on what that will look like throughout the week," O'Connell said. "I think it's very important that we let the medical team and that protocol play itself out, as far as their availability for when they can possibly have the ability to play this weekend or not.

"We'll keep you guys updated, but I think it's very important that we rely on the medical team to make sure the player's health and safety is the No. 1 priority when dealing with that," he added.

O'Connell said Smith is "doing well" after "battling" through the injury.

"[He] continues to be one of our marquee, premier players that help us win football games by how he impacts the game, so we'll see how he does throughout the week," O'Connell said.

Kendricks reflects on improbable end zone turnover

Of course, the play that enabled the Vikings to stay in the game occurred with under a minute to go in regulation.

The Bills faced a first-and-10 from the Buffalo 1 and just had to get the ball out of the end zone.

It seemed entirely improbable that the Vikings could swing momentum in their favor at that point, but Kendricks said he and his teammates never gave up.

"We actually did start talking about how we were gonna get it done. We knew they were backed up significantly. We knew they had to run some sort of run play or quarterback sneak," he explained. "And [Allen's] a big body, so we figured he was gonna want the ball in his hands. They ran the formation that they ran with the quarterback sneak, and we just took our shot.

View Vikings in Big Head Mode during the thrilling overtime win over Buffalo at Highmark Stadium.

"The ball popped out immediately, and I was just holding on for dear life," Kendricks continued. "I was trying to deal it to Harry (Harrison Smith) because it kind of popped out closer to him, and then it got bumped closer to me, and I snatched it up real quick. … Once I got it, I kind of just held it close to my chest and held on."

O'Connell has emphasized situational football all season long, and O'Neill said that specific scenario is one the team practices every week.

"Fridays when we're at practice, we always walk through plays from backed up [positions], from the minus-1, minus-2, minus-3, so we always get a shot at a couple plays in a tough situation like that," O'Neill said. "Thankfully, our team was on the good side of that play this week."