As the Vikings win streak started to build, so did their momentum. But with that came some criticism.
Minnesota had been victorious in six consecutive games, all of which were by one-score margins. The Vikings also needed several game-winning drives and late defensive stops during the streak and had only one victory against a team with a winning record (Miami).
Minnesota traveled to Buffalo on Sunday in a pivotal road contest that served as a "prove it"-type game against one of the NFL's premier teams.
Despite trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter for the second consecutive week and the third time in the past seven games, the Vikings found a way to battle back and earned a thrilling 33-30 victory in overtime.
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune looked at five takeaways from Minnesota's victory over Buffalo.
Craig said the Vikings red-zone defense stepped up when it was needed the most.
Prior to Sunday's game, Minnesota was ranked last in the NFL in red zone defense. Craig wrote:
View postgame celebration photos following the Vikings 33-30 win in overtime vs. the Bills at Highmark Stadium.
The Vikings were allowing red zone touchdowns at a 78.95% clip, including 87.5% on the road, when the Bills added three in four trips to lead 24-10 at the half.
But in the second half, Minnesota's defense answered the call. Buffalo reached the red zone three times after the start of the fourth quarter but only managed to score a field goal. The other two trips resulted in end zone interceptions by cornerback Patrick Peterson, including one to end the game.
Craig noted cornerback Duke Shelley also produced a key play late.
Elevated from the practice squad and making his Vikings defensive debut late in the game, the 5-foot-9 Shelley – the fourth outside corner to play opposite Peterson this season — denied 6-foot-4 Dawson Knox a touchdown with an excellent pass defense one play before Peterson's game-winner.
Another key takeaway Craig identified was a pair of crucial blocks on the offensive end made by running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
Jefferson made a huge statement on Sunday to back up his preseason declaration of becoming one of the NFL's best receivers. He hauled in 10 catches for a career-high 193 yards and a touchdown, including a 46-yard reception on his first target.
But none of Jefferson's catches compared to the one he made during the Vikings final drive of the fourth quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-18 from the Minnesota 27-yard line with two minutes left, quarterback Kirk Cousins dropped back and fired a deep ball in Jefferson's direction.
Both Jefferson and Buffalo cornerback Cam Lewis leapt for the ball before Jefferson ripped it away from Lewis' grasp with one hand for a 32-yard reception to keep the drive alive.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, nine of Jefferson's 10 receptions had a completion probability of less than 50 percent, the most in a game by any player in the Next Gen Stats era. No other player has recorded more than six.
On the 32-yarder, Jefferson had just a 28.8 percent completion probability, according to the stats.
Craig said Cook delivered a critical block during the play to allow Cousins to find Jefferson.
On third down, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Von Miller beat right tackle Brian O'Neill for a sack. Miller then shifted to the other side to punish backup left tackle Blake Brandel. It didn't work out that way because Cook stonewalled Miller with the kind of block the much larger Adrian Peterson never mustered in his illustrious career.
Cook had another standout block in pass protection earlier when he blasted Damar Hamlin on a safety blitz that allowed Cousins to complete a short pass to Adam Thielen.
Jefferson helped Cook on a monumental play earlier in the game. After the Bills expanded their lead to 27-10 with 1:51 left in the third quarter on a 45-yard field goal by kicker Tyler Bass, the Vikings started their next possession at their own 19.
One play was all Minnesota needed, as Cook broke free for an 81-yard touchdown run to trim the deficit to 10 in just 17 seconds.
Cook's run was the longest rush of his career and the longest run by any player in the NFL so far this season. It is the longest rushing touchdown by a Viking since Peterson's 82-yard scamper in December 2012 and the sixth-longest run in franchise history.
The Minnesota running back also reached 21.68 miles per hour on the run, which is the third-fastest speed from a ball carrier this season, according to Next Gen Stats.
During Cook's run, as he was reaching the line of scrimmage, Jefferson stepped up and delivered a timely block on the safety Hamlin. Jefferson threw Hamlin to the ground, allowing Cook to get past Bills cornerback Christian Benford and outrun the rest of the Buffalo defense for the score.
Craig also noted Vikings outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith kept up his momentum in his pursuit of being named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite a combined 63 points allowed, the Vikings were able to go toe-to-toe with the Bills defensively. Minnesota recorded four takeaways (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and had two sacks, one by Smith and the other by fellow outside linebacker Danielle Hunter.
Smith missed a sack on a stunt when Allen eluded him for a 25-yard gain. But Z's NFL Defensive Player of the Year campaign got a boost with a third-down sack that forced Buffalo to punt after Cousins had opened the second half with an interception.
Smith currently has 9.5 sacks this season, which is tied for second in the NFL.
View game photos of the Week 10 matchup between the Vikings and Bills at Highmark Stadium,
CBS Sports Gives Out Grades for Week 10
The Vikings victory against the Bills was described by many as the “Game of the Year.”
John Breech of CBS Sports recently analyzed every game on Sunday from Week 10 and provided grades for each team. Breech gave the Vikings an 'A-' for their game. He wrote:
The Vikings (8-1) pulled off one of the most shocking wins of the NFL season, and it was almost all thanks to Justin Jefferson and Patrick Peterson. The receiver came up with big catch after big catch after big catch on a day where he caught 10 passes for 193 yards and a TD. One of his receptions came on a fourth-and-18, and it very well might end up going down as the best catch by any player this year.
As for Peterson, he picked off Josh Allen twice, including an interception in overtime that won the game for the Vikings. Going into this game, the Vikings didn't really have a statement win on the season, but they definitely made a statement on Sunday, and that statement is that this team is a Super Bowl contender.