The Vikings wrapped the 2020 season on Sunday with a 37-35 victory over the Lions in Detroit.
Minnesota's offense struggled to turn the ignition at the start of the game before finding overdrive and finishing with season bests in points and net yards (508). The Vikings were able to get a "miracle" play for a 40-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Chad Beebe with just four seconds left in the first half.
The Vikings (7-9) defense mustered a pair of stops on two 2-point conversion passes by Matthew Stafford that prevented the Lions (5-11) from tying the score at 31 in the third quarter and at 37 with under five minutes remaining.
Harrison Smith's 28th career interception was the only time in four second-half possessions that Detroit didn't end with a touchdown. It set up a 23-yard field goal by Dan Bailey for a 31-23 lead with 7:55 left in the third quarter.
The best defense after that was a good offense, as Minnesota held the ball for the final 4:26 of the game and closed the campaign in the victory formation.
Pre-game question: How would the Vikings offense approach not having Dalvin Cook?
Cook's importance in the offense can't be understated. He turned in 1,557 rushing yards and 16 scores on the ground, the latter of which tied for the NFL lead in 2020.
The Pro Bowl running back was excused this week to travel to Florida and grieve the tragic and unexpected death of his father.
(The Vikings also were without two of their three senior-most offensive players. Kyle Rudolph was placed on Injured Reserve, and left tackle Riley Reiff landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week.)
View game action photos as the Vikings take on the Lions in Detroit for the 2020 season finale.
Alexander Mattison started and handled the bulk of work in the ground game, rushing 21 times for 95 yards and a score (a 2-yard run to give Minnesota a 28-23 lead with 11:35 left in the third quarter). Mattison also turned in a nifty 28-yard touchdown reception to put Minnesota on the scoreboard.
The Vikings later involved running back Ameer Abdullah, who caught a 4-yard touchdown pass for a 14-13 lead in the second quarter. Mike Boone toted the rock five times for 29 yards, including a 19-yard gain on first-and-20 that set up an eventual 1-yard touchdown run by Cousins.
While Justin Jefferson led Minnesota with 12 targets and delivered nine receptions and 133 yards on the way to setting franchise and NFL records for a rookie, the Vikings also set a team record with six players posting 40 or more receiving yards.
Adam Thielen (four receptions, 57 yards), Mattison (three, 50 yards), Tyler Conklin (three, 40), C.J. Ham (two, 44) and Beebe (two, 44) combined in the effort, and Irv Smith, Jr., also added two catches for 30 yards.
The final drive featured diversified distribution.
Ham began it with a 30-yard reception after he caught a short pass in open acreage. The Vikings then erased a holding penalty with passes of 13 and 8 yards to Jefferson.
Mattison gained 5 before losing 1 on runs that ended with tackles by former Viking Everson Griffen.
Cousins connected with Smith on a gain of 5 that was just shy of the sticks, setting up a fourth-and-inches at the Detroit 25 and 2:28 left on the clock.
Rather than try a 43-yard field goal, Head Coach Mike Zimmer opted for a toss sweep. Mattison picked up great blocks from Smith and Ham to get to the perimeter and got a clear-out block from right tackle Brian O'Neill to send the Vikings into victory formation.
"We've got some good players. Irv Smith and Conklin and Adam, and obviously we're missing Rudy today. Beebe made some good plays. … We've got some good receivers, and that will continue to be a strength of ours, and we'll continue to figure out how to fill some of the other holes that we have."
— Zimmer on so many offensive players contributing
"It was big. I think it was four minutes left or something and we took it over. We make the fourth-and-half-a-yard to be able to take a knee, so that was big."
— Zimmer on the offense closing out the game
"We had a slow start offensively today and were able to move the ball consistently throughout after that and were able to put points on the board. It was great to be able to use our depth more this week with Mike Boone and Alex Mattison, Chad Beebe made some big plays and Tyler Conklin. Good to get those guys more opportunities and they were able to show what they can do. There's certainly a lot to build on offensively from what we were able to do this year and this week. I'm encouraged about moving forward with what we can do and who we can be."
"It means a lot. I texted him after the game and was telling him we're praying for him and got his back. I can't imagine losing my father, especially during the season like this, that's very tough. For him to go through that, I don't wish that on anybody. We definitely played this game for Dalvin, and we wanted to get this 'Dub' for him."