MINNEAPOLIS — The players on the field could have heard a pin drop in the upper level of U.S. Bank Stadium.
Dan Bailey's 23-yard field goal gave the Vikings a 27-24 overtime victory over the Jaguars on Sunday, ending an affair that needed three hours, 39 minutes to be decided.
But rather than exclamations of euphoria (as heard from the Titans and Cowboys after their late scores to win games earlier this season) from the home sideline, there was just subdued silence in the fan-free venue.
One reality is the Vikings improved to 6-6 after a 1-5 start. That, combined with a loss by the Cardinals (6-6) Sunday moved Minnesota into seventh in the NFC Standings via a tiebreaker over Arizona.
Another reality is a litany of mistakes will await a virtual film session on Monday. Any could have caused a tie or damaging loss.
Rather than getting to log any rest on the way into next week's huge game at Tampa Bay (7-5), which had its bye in Week 13, the Vikings had to go to the wire. Will they be able to refill their bucket before facing the Bucs?
View game-action images as the Vikings take on the Jaguars during Week 13 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Pre-game question: After three consecutive close games, could the Vikings maybe build a lead early against the one-win Jaguars and breathe a little to prepare for the final quarter of the season?
This premise is posed from the outside of the Vikings facility, since no one among the coaching staff or players were taking the Jaguars lightly.
All the national experts had picked the Vikings, but anyone who expected a cakewalk had to be kidding.
Vikings All-Pro Eric Kendricks was added to the injury report Thursday with a calf injury and appeared to aggravate it while warming up Sunday. The absence of Kendricks was noticeable on the opening series.
Jacksonville completed a 24-yard pass from Mike Glennon to tight end James O'Shaughnessy down the middle for 24 yards on the first snap of the game.
The Vikings opened with Eric Wilson sliding to middle linebacker and veteran Todd Davis at Wilson's normal spot. Wilson had good coverage on the play, but Kendricks has been so strong in coverage this season.
The Jaguars followed with gains of 8, 9 and 6 before Glennon connected with Laviska Shenault, Jr., on a 28-yard touchdown. Harrison Smith appeared to have a beat on the ball, but it was deflected by Kris Boyd and corralled by the rookie.
Smith, however, was able to record his 27th career interception in overtime to give Minnesota the ball at the Jacksonville 46-yard line and set up the game-winning drive.
While Smith delivered the final of four turnovers forced by Minnesota, less-experienced Vikings also delivered key takeaways.
Rookie Cameron Dantzler intercepted Glennon when the Vikings trailed 9-0, and the offense responded with a touchdown drive. Dantzler's pick was the first by a Vikings cornerback in 2020.
The third-round pick later pried the ball away from receiver Chris Conley and recovered it to set up a 48-yard field goal that gave Minnesota a 24-16 lead with 3:50 left in regulation.
Defensive end Jordan Brailford, who made his NFL debut, also forced and recovered a fumble and was able to pressure Glennon in the end zone, leading to a sack and safety by Ifeadi Odenigbo that put Minnesota up 21-16 and followed a goal-to-go fumble by Minnesota.
Minnesota's offensive triplets of running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson again delivered, but the day also needed big plays from lesser-sung heroes like C.J. Ham.
The fullback turned a short pass into a 12-yard touchdown reception while wearing cleats in honor of his late mother, Tina, who passed away earlier this year after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Cook carried the ball a whopping 32 times, including eight snaps in a row on Minnesota's final possession. He finished with 120 yards on the ground and added six catches for 59 yards.
Thielen put the Vikings on the board first, reeling in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins that was placed perfectly in the back of the end zone. He totaled eight receptions for 75 yards.
Jefferson had a milestone day, recording nine catches for 121 yards that included a 20-yard touchdown reception that pushed him across the rare 1,000-yard milestone in just his 12th game.
His 1,039 receiving yards through 12 games rank second in the NFL during the Super Bowl era, and he broke Randy Moss' franchise record for 100-yard games by a rookie receiver with his fifth outburst.
"We didn't play particularly well at times. Defensively, they went right down and scored on us. I thought we played a lot better throughout the course of the game, except, you know, we got some turnovers, which were big, and we got a chance to win the game on the 2-point play [by Jacksonville] and we don't get that done."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
"Offensively, it was a struggle today for the most part. They were loading up the box on us and really making sure to take care of Dalvin [Cook]. And then obviously the interception for a touchdown the first play of the second half. We fumble the ball on the 1-yard line going in. We missed three kicks (two PATs and a 51-yard field goal). But, I think it did loosen them up a little bit when Kirk [Cousins] started hitting those balls down the field there in, I believe it was the fourth quarter, and Dalvin was able to get going – maybe it was in the third quarter – Dalvin was able to get going a little bit better. I'm talking to the team about, 'It's important that we're winning these games, but we've got to do these things way better than what we're doing.' And they all understand. There wasn't a lot of hootin' and hollering going on the last two weeks. They know that we have to do better in order to continue to win games."
"[Jefferson] continues to just be a great asset for us. I'm so grateful that we drafted him and so grateful that we have him. In addition to being such a capable receiver, he has a great demeanor about him during the games. He doesn't get high or low, just kind of stays the course, and he's a great teammate. It's been a joy working with him, and we're only 12 games into his career, so there's a lot of football ahead. I think our fan base should be excited about what he'll be able to do, hopefully for a long time."
"I think getting a win is the key. You have to remember it's balance, right? It's never, 'Hey, great job, go celebrate a win,' and it's never, 'Hey, you need to play better and think about all of your mistakes.' It's somewhere in the middle, so I was very pleased with the resiliency and the number of times the defense kept giving us as an offense opportunities. It says a lot about their effort. If you take away the touchdown that we gifted them, our defense just didn't give up a lot today, points or otherwise, so they've done a great job, and there's a lot to be proud of when it comes to their resiliency, certainly."
"I think it was a combination of Dalvin running really hard and giving everything he had but also our offensive line, our tight ends, even our receivers were getting involved in blocking for the run game. C.J. Ham did a really good job as well, of just continuing to fit up on his linebacker or safety, whoever he had to block, so great effort by them, and I think they took pride in that at the end of the game to put it on their shoulders and find the way to run the ball to a win."
"A win is a win. It doesn't matter how much we win by. But there are definitely a lot of things we need to fix and look at. We definitely have to fix those things going into Tampa next week."
"It feels amazing. It feels good to have goals at the beginning of the season and then achieve those goals. It's definitely amazing. I'm looking to keep going."