MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings led for the brunt of Sunday's game but found themselves down by a single point with 37 seconds remaining.
What were they thinking before Minnesota eeked out the 19-17 victory over Detroit as time expired?
Possibly, "How could it really come down to this?"
Maybe, "We should have put this one away a long time ago."
But there definitely wasn't a "Not again."
Instead it was more of, as Justin Jefferson said, "We've still got time."
Adam Thielen concurred, explaining, "We looked at each other and said, 'Hey. It's time to go to work.' That's just how this league works. We practice those situations all OTAs and training camp. [Head Coach Mike Zimmer] is like, 'Hey we've got 37 seconds left and we've got two timeouts and we're [at our own 25-yard line.'] We literally do that every single day in practice."
After 59 minutes and 23 seconds, the Vikings appeared in danger of suffering their fourth loss in 2021 by seven or fewer points and second by a single point.
A disastrous sequence of a fumble by Alexander Mattison and Detroit's first touchdown of the day, followed by a 2-point conversion, had derailed a grit-fest day between the NFC North foes.
Thirty-three seconds, two timeouts, ball at the 18, Kirk Cousins opened the drive with a 21-yard pass to Adam Thielen against a zone defense by the Lions.
It was Thielen's first catch that counted of the entire game, although he did have a 20-yard reception on a screen wiped off by a holding penalty.
"Regardless of situation, you just think through, 'How many timeouts do we have, how many yards do we need, how much clock do we have, what's the play call, what's my read?' And you just kind of systematically go through it, regardless of the situation," Cousins said.
Greg Joseph had previously nailed a 55-yard field goal for his career long, but he also caught too much ground on a 49-yarder, so the Vikings wanted to get as much yardage as they could. Another 55-yard attempt would mean advancing to the Detroit 37-yard line.
"Beggars can't be choosers, so you're going to get what you can get," Cousins said. "Get down as far as you can. But with the situation with the clock and timeouts, the yards we needed, you just know you need a productive first play. And go from there."
The 21-yard pass to Thielen was followed by a timeout and a 6-yard completion to Dede Westbrook. Minnesota burned its final timeout after that grab by the offseason signee.
Twenty-two seconds remained, and the ball was at the Minnesota 45, with the Vikings facing a second-and-4.
Cousins found Thielen for a gain of 19 to the 36. It moved Thielen past Vikings Ring of Honor receiver Ahmad Rashad for seventh place on Minnesota's career receiving yards list.
He got up and quickly handed the ball to center Garrett Bradbury as the Vikings hustled to stop the clock.
Cousins spiked the ball to do so with 0:03 remaining.
In came Joseph for a 54-yard attempt.
Through the uprights it went, sending the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd into a frenzy, lifting the Vikings to 2-3 on the season and dropping the Lions to 0-5.
"We've been doing a lot of extra 2-minute stuff, end of half, end of game … and it paid off today," Zimmer said. "It was a good deal."
Joseph already has had a myriad of experiences in his first five Vikings games. He forced overtime with a 53-yard field goal at Cincinnati in Week 1 but pushed a 37-yard game-winner wide right in Week 2.
Teammates had his back then and since, and on Sunday, he had theirs.
"It was a little bit of an emotional roller-coaster toward the end there, but it's football and it happens to the best of us, so I just need to understand the situation, and I have to look at it and make sure it doesn't happen again," said Mattison, who rushed for 113 yards and caught seven passes for 40 yards in filling in for Dalvin Cook.
"I talked to Greg and he talked to me and he said, 'You got my back. I got your back,' and so that's what this team is about. We go in there, we fight together every single day. We put in the work so we can get better every single day so we can go out there on Sundays and perform and have each other's back."