All season long, the Vikings had found a way to win.
It didn't matter if they were down double digits in the fourth quarter or if their opponent needed one play to seal the game. Minnesota kept fighting and got those game-changing and winning plays when it needed them.
After breaking an NFL record in the regular season with 11 one-score victories, the Vikings couldn't replicate it one more time, falling to the Giants 31-24 in the Wild Card game Sunday to bring their season to a close.
Coller wrote like their previous meeting against the Giants in Week 16 — and throughout most of the season — the Vikings defense struggled.
The last time the Vikings faced the Giants in Week 16, they allowed quarterback Daniel Jones to post the fifth highest passing total of his career. This time he tied his eighth highest total with 301 yards through the air. They also let the Giants run for 142 total yards and the G-Men punted just twice en route to scoring 31 points.
This isn't exactly a new result against the Vikings defense, which allowed 400-plus yards in nine games this season, but it came against an offense which ranked just 18th in total yardage.
"I think there were some issues with explosive, big plays," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "[Tonight] they schematically did some things to maybe take advantage of some things we were doing."
Minnesota gave up four plays of 24 yards or more. They were a 47-yard pass from Jones to Darius Slayton, consecutive completions of 24 and 32 yards to Saquon Barkley and Isaiah Hodgins, respectively, and a 28-yard touchdown run by Barkley.
It wasn't just explosive plays that hurt the Vikings defense, however. Jones utilized scrambles out of the pocket and designed runs to outrush Minnesota's offense 78-61.
View game action photos from the Vikings-Giants Wild Card game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 15, 2023.
Jones converted the following plays for first downs on the ground:
— Second-and-7, seven yards
— First-and-10, 15 yards
— Second-and-7, 14 yards
— Third-and-2, eight yards
— Third-and-2, 12 yards
— Fourth-and-1, two yards
— Fourth-and-1, one yard
"We talked about it throughout the week, we wanted to try to keep him in the pocket," O'Connell said. "We wanted to try to get a rush, change the game with some of our playmakers up there, but not let him get out and have an impact. They just happened to make those plays."
Minnesota also didn't force a turnover Sunday after recording two in its previous meeting against the Giants. The Vikings also allowed New York to convert seven of its 13 third downs, both of its fourth downs and go three-for-four in the red zone.
Offensively, the Vikings battled back from two 10-point deficits and ultimately tied the game at 24 with 12:34 remaining, but they couldn't execute down the stretch.
Despite Kirk Cousins finishing the game with 273 yards on 31-of-39 passing, with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions or sacks, the Vikings only recorded a field goal on their final three drives.
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson had a strong start Sunday, following up his 12-catch, 133-yard, one-score game against the Giants in Week 16 with five receptions for 37 yards in the first quarter. But Jefferson was only targeted four times the rest of the way, including recording just one catch for four yards in the second half.
"They did what everybody else does," Jefferson said, who was double teamed and followed by corner Adoree' Jackson for most of the day. "It was not a shocker or something that was surprising."
Coller wrote O'Connell noticed a different defensive scheme from the Giants from what the Vikings faced in their first meeting.
[The Giants]came in as a blitz-crazed team that led the NFL in sending extra rushers but instead allowed their front four to rush so they could provide extra coverage on Jefferson.
"They didn't bring as much pressure [tonight]; it was more so a story of coverage, double teams," O'Connell said. "I think when you look at his stats, I don't think it's a coincidence."
Minnesota did have a bright spot offensively, though, as tight end T.J. Hockenson produced another big game against the Giants.
Hockenson answered his 13-catch, 109-yard, two-score outing against the Giants in Week 16 with 10 receptions for 129 yards. He hauled in catches of 27 and 28 yards on the same drive and converted a fourth-and-2 with an 18-yard reception.
"He's a really good football player, in this offense, in this system, the Y, the tight end will always, especially someone of T.J.'s ability, will always have a big role," Cousins said. "We're grateful to have a guy who's that capable, and we're going to give him a lot of opportunities."
The Vikings finished the season 13-5 overall, recording just their third season in franchise history with at least 13 regular-season victories.
"It's a little too soon to kind of go into true evaluation mode," O'Connell said. "It's going to sting us for a long time. This team was as competitive as any group as I've been around from the standpoint of each and every time they took the field with the expectation to win. It did not always go our way, but these guys battled for, like you said, 13 wins, and I think there's a lot of things that I'm very, very fortunate and excited about moving forward with this team currently and where we can take it from here."
NFL.com identifies key questions for teams that made the postseason
Five NFL teams, including the Vikings, joined 18 of its counterparts over the weekend with a loss in the Wild Card Round (either Dallas or Tampa Bay will be eliminated tonight).
Jeffri Chadiha of NFL.com looked at the biggest immediate question surrounding the postseason teams that had their seasons come to an end or continue to the next round.
For the Vikings, Chadiha said Minnesota's biggest question is about improving its defense. He wrote:
The challenge the Vikings faced heading into the playoffs was clear. They ranked 28th in scoring defense this season and that unit tended to be most vulnerable against the best teams on Minnesota's schedule. Staying on brand, the Vikings allowed 31 points and 431 yards to a Giants team that is far from explosive. There was a lot to work-through for Minnesota — including a shift to a 3-4 scheme after years in a 4-3 — but nobody could have predicted Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell fielding such a disappointing unit.
The Vikings will be hoping to see more from a couple rookie defensive backs that landed on Injured Reserve (safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr.) but there should be more moves coming to help an underwhelming secondary. The Vikings did a lot of good things this season, including winning an NFC North title. The next step is to find a way to field a defense that can be a better complement to the firepower on the other side of the ball.