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How We Got Here: Recapping Games 13-16

Week 14

Sunday, Dec. 10

Panthers 31, Vikings 24 at Bank of America Stadium

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Dec. 10 game against the Panthers.

Key stat

Vikings red zone scoring efficiency was just 25 percent at Carolina.

The Vikings finished the regular season ranked ninth in red zone touchdown efficiency (58 percent), but in the loss at Carolina they were not sharp in this critical area. In a game that was tied with 3:07 to play after a furious 11-point Vikings comeback, Minnesota wound up scoring just one touchdown on four red zone trips. That is a wide discrepancy in a game with such tight margins.

Decisive moment

Two plays after Kai Forbath converted a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 24, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton ripped off a 62-yard run to the Minnesota 8, setting up the go-ahead touchdown moments later.

Star of the game

Adam Thielen hauled in six receptions for 105 yards, his third 100-yard game in a five-week span. Thielen also caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum late in the fourth quarter that, combined with the two-point conversion on the next play, pulled the Vikings to within three points.

Quote of the day

"I've been around a lot of teams, and a lot of teams would have [shut down], and this team has nothing but fight in them. At the end of the day, we don't care if we're down three points, one point or 20 points. We're going to fight, and we're going to claw, scratch, do whatever we've got to do to get back in the ball game." – Brian Robison on the Vikings refusal to quit fighting

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Photo of the day

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum late in the fourth quarter.

Week 15

Sunday, Dec. 17

Vikings 34, Bengals 7 at U.S. Bank Stadium

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Dec. 17 game against the Bengals.

Key stat

The Bengals were 1-of-13, just 7.7 percent, on third downs.

Eric Kendricks returned an interception for a touchdown on Cincinnati's second possession of the game to make it 14-0, and the game was effectively in hand for the Vikings from that point forward. The Vikings controlled the game primarily because of their ability to get off the field on third downs, where Cincinnati converted just one time in 13 attempts. The Bengals picked up one first down in the entire first half and didn't run a play in Vikings territory until the 2:34 mark in the third quarter.

Decisive moment

Down 14-0 late in the 1st quarter, Cincinnati was faced with a 3rd and 4 from their 35. A gain of three yards set up a 4th and 1 from the 38, where Cincinnati elected to go for it. Running back Giovanni Bernard took the handoff and ran behind a lead blocker to the right side, but the Vikings had every gap covered and the running lanes, as well as the Bengals chances on that day, collapsed under the weight of the best defense in the NFL.

Star of the game

Jerick McKinnon didn't score a touchdown, but he was a key component every time the Vikings offense generated points. McKinnon had two touches for 10 yards on the Vikings first scoring drive, then had plays of 41 yards and 31 yards on the next two touchdown drives. McKinnon had four touches for 39 yards on the two field goal drives, and he generated 85 yards and two conversions on four third-down carries.

Quote of the day

"It's awesome. We feed off of them and they feed off of us. It feels like we're all a part of the Vikings." – Harrison Smith on the impact of crowd noise at U.S. Bank Stadium

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Photo of the day

Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off Bengal quarterback Andy Dalton and returned the interception for a touchdown to give Minnesota an early 14-0 lead.* *

Week 16

Saturday, Dec. 23

Vikings 16, Packers 0 at Lambeau Field

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Dec. 23 game against the Packers.

Key stat

Green Bay was held scoreless by the Vikings.

You cannot lose a game when you hold the opponent to zero points. The Vikings pitched a shutout for the first time in 24 seasons and for the first time against the Packers since November of 1971.

Decisive moment

Trailing 13-0 and facing a third-and-3 from the Minnesota 13, Green Bay still sought an unlikely comeback. But tight end Lance Kendricks dropped a would-be first down and possible touchdown, and then Xavier Rhodes broke up a pass in the end zone intended for receiver Michael Clark on fourth-and-3 to turn the Packers over on downs.

Star of the game

Harrison Smith was flawless on the night, leading the team in tackles (eight) and picking off two Brett Hundley passes, one of which was right before halftime and served as a momentum-stopper because the Packers were driving to try and score before halftime.

Quote of the day

"Not only is it tough when that happens in a regular game, but we're talking, it's single digits, we're asking him to come out in a big-time game we need to win, and he was just flawless. There was not one bad snap out there today. Field goals, too. I mean, people don't understand how tough it is to do punt and field goal, and he did just a phenomenal job." – Ryan Quigley on the performance of David Morgan, who replaced an injured Kevin McDermott at long snapper

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Photo of the day

Vikings safety Harrison Smith caught one of his two interceptions on a pass from Brett Hundley as the Packers tried to mount a comeback at Lambeau Field on Saturday night.

Week 17

Sunday, Dec. 31

Vikings 23, Bears 10 at U.S. Bank Stadium

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Dec. 31 game against the Bears.