MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings defense started with a bang, their offense showed an ability to zoom, and the game ended with the boom of fireworks overhead.
Minnesota scored on its first defensive snap and last offensive play in a 30-24 overtime victory over the New York Jets Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Gerald Hodges' 27-yard return of an interception opened the game with excitement, and Jarius Wright's 87-yard touchdown catch-and-run ended it almost unbelievable fashion — except for in the minds of the Vikings when they approached the line of scrimmage.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater surveyed the Jets, anticipated that they were going to run an aggressive Cover 0 "all-out blitz" on the third-and-5 from the Minnesota 13 and checked into a receiver screen pass that the Vikings (6-7) had used a couple times earlier in the game.
This time, however, Wright, made a nice jumping catch on a pass that was flying high, spotted blocks from Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and John Sullivan and showed he can be tough to catch. It was the third-longest TD reception in Vikings history and is the second longest TD catch in overtime in NFL history.
"I can say this is one of the happiest moments in my life," Wright said after the game. "I thank God for the opportunity.
"I did know it was a good look," Wright added. "We ran it a couple times earlier in the game, and it was one man away from being a touchdown then. Jennings is a great blocker. He does a great job of putting himself in the best situation to get the block. Basically, that's the block that really set me free. Kyle did a great job of picking up the next guy, and as I broke free, I saw Sully, and I said, 'Oh yeah, this is going a long way.' "
Bridgewater, who recorded his fifth victory and fourth involving a winning-drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, liked what he saw after he fired the ball to Wright.
"I knew that once we got the play set up, it was up to Jarius to do the rest," Bridgewater said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting out there and kicking out the defenders, Greg and Kyle were out there also, and did a great job kicking out defenders and getting Jarius a lane to run through and eventually score."
Sullivan was able to deter Sheldon Richardson enough for Wright to fire up his afterburners. Richardson is quite fast for a defensive lineman and had all three of New York's sacks, including a safety, but he didn't have a shot at Wright.
"I don't know how much I got on him, but I saw Sheldon's angle was not going to catch him and I was just happy we were going to win the game. I knew it was over on that play," Sullivan said. "We've had some crazy finishes, but that's right up there with all of them. Anytime you can end the game on one play, and you do when it's that long and exciting, it's right up there with some of the best."
View images from the week 14 matchup at TCF Bank Stadium between the Vikings and Jets.
Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway said the ending is "certainly in the top 5 or 10" during his nine seasons with the Vikings.
Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan said his decision for that coverage "shouldn't have been made there."
"We had them pinned back there, and have great field position," Ryan said. "That was my thinking going in, but I came here to win the game, not to just play it close. That's clearly on my shoulder."
Harrison Smith was one of several players going over defensive plans on the sideline in case the Vikings had to punt but stopped when he heard Vikings fans erupt.
"I just heard the crowd go crazy, so I looked up and saw Jarius running," Smith said. "I had to watch the replay to see what play it was. Unbelievable way to win the game. Jarius has some jets, so I'm glad he got the ball."
AERIAL ATTACK: Bridgewater completed 19 of 27 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns and one interception that occurred on the final play of the first half on a Hail Mary for a passer rating of 117.7. He opened with seven straight completions for 110 yards and didn't throw an incomplete pass until 5:26 remained in the second quarter.
Wright led the Vikings with four catches for 123 yards, Charles Johnson added four catches for 103 yards, and Jennings added five catches for 52 yards, including one that involved great footwork just inside the Jets sideline.
It was the second game this season for Wright to have more than 100 receiving yards, and first career game for Johnson to do so. The September addition to the roster off Cleveland's practice squad recorded a career-long 56-yard touchdown that put Minnesota up 14-9 in the first quarter.
"It's good. It shows we do work on those things and we're trying to get better each and every week," Johnson said of the deep connection that was Bridgewater's career long until overtime. "We're going to continue to get better, and hopefully I can catch a whole lot more in the future."
Johnson reached for another touchdown in the second quarter, but the ball was knocked loose shy of the goal line after a 22-yard gain. Fullback Jerome Felton had hustled toward the play and was rewarded by recovering the ball in the end zone for his first career touchdown.
"It's been a long time coming, but I'll take it," Felton said. "When I saw him catch it, he started cutting back across the field and I was thinking I was going to get a block and get him into the end zone, but the DB kind of knifed in front of me and hit him, popped the ball up and it went into the end zone. I just kind of dove on it. I got it pretty clean, and once I had it, no one was going to take it away from me."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the game gave Bridgewater a chance to publicly show what he's been doing in practice: "his composure and his competitiveness — and you know what, he's a tough guy. He really is a tough guy, quiet, but he's tough."
Zimmer said he thinks Bridgewater is getting stronger as the season is progressing.
"You can see a little more velocity coming," Zimmer said. "He's so accurate that at times it looks like he's floating it on some of the outside breaking routes. It looks like he's floating it, but the ball really jumps out of his hands. I have seen a lot lately where he's gunning it a little bit harder. (Offensive Coordinator) Norv (Turner) talks about throwing it with a grunt."
DOUBLE TAKEAWAYS: Hodges' interception resulted in points, and the other takeaway by the Vikings — a fumble forced by Andrew Sendejo that was recovered by Captain Munnerlyn at the Minnesota 4-yard line on a second-and-3 play — prevented points by the Jets and preserved a 21-12 lead midway through the second quarter.
Smith had a better view of the play by Hodges than the play by Wright because he was guarding former Viking Percy Harvin, who was Geno Smith's intended target.
"I was just kind of looking at the ball and saw Gerald jump up and grab it, and him getting it to the end zone was awesome," Smith said. "We've kind of been giving him some trouble in practice because we've seen him drop a couple, but he made up for it."
Hodges, who started in place of rookie Anthony Barr (knee), snagged the ball with one hand in the center of the field and found a path to the end zone by running to his right.
"I just read the offense and saw the formation," Hodges said. "All week, we practice formations, formations, formations, and the quicker you get a chance to see the formation, the quicker you can put yourself in a spot to make a big play. I saw the formation from the jump and put myself in position to make a play.
"I'm probably not going to get teased about something until maybe tomorrow when we watch the film," he added.
Although the Vikings made mistakes, Smith said he liked the "toughness and resiliency" the team showed.
"One play that sticks out in my mind is the Andrew Sendejo play on the fumble at the goal line," Smith said. "That's one that people might not be talking about, but that's seven points right there so that's huge."
RUNNING COMMITTEE: The Vikings responded to the loss of rookie running back Jerick McKinnon (back injury) by rushing for 114 yards on 28 carries against a defense that was only allowing an average of 85 yards per game. New York (2-11) was without starting defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, but Minnesota got 54 yards on 19 attempts by Matt Asiata, 23 yards on the ground on a reverse with Wright, 15 yards on three carries by Ben Tate, a 9-yard rush from Joe Banyard, and a 6-yard gain by Cordarrelle Patterson.
NOTES: Jeff Locke averaged 49.3 yards (148 yards on three punts) and netted 45 that included a long of 58 and one punt that was downed inside the 20. … Harvin had six catches for 124 yards and a 35-yard touchdown against the team that drafted him. … Minnesota did not allow a touchdown on any of the five trips that New York made inside its 20-yard line. … Everson Griffen added another sack to his team-leading total of 12, and Brian Robison and Smith each recorded sacks. … Xavier Rhodes added another three pass breakups and has 17 on the season (click hereto vote for Griffen, Smith, Rhodes and other Vikings for the 2015 Pro Bowl).