EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell began his media session Monday with gratitude after his team turned a 33-point halftime deficit into a stunning 39-36 overtime victory against Indianapolis Saturday, helping Minnesota clinch the NFC North title in the process.
"We set out on a goal at the beginning of training camp to hopefully have a chance to become NFC North champions, so to have accomplished that goal — the way we did it, obviously, is one thing to talk about — but just over the course of the whole season, dealing with adversity that shows up in different ways throughout the season, I'm just proud of our team for finding a way to win that football game and ultimately the division," O'Connell said. "Definitely want to take a moment and thank the Wilf family, all the support that we get from our great ownership to do this job on a daily basis. I want to thank [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah], our coaching staff and then obviously our players. It's been a collective effort from day one here — people working really hard in a lot of facets of our building to try to get goal number one accomplished."
The comeback victory by the Vikings is now the largest in NFL history in any regular-season or postseason game. The previous mark was set in January 1993, when Buffalo rallied from a 32-point deficit (35-3) to defeat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime.
Monday wasn't all about the pride and joy of winning a division, though. O'Connell said in the hours that have spanned since his team's historic victory, he's thought more about the first half performance that put his group in the massive deficit and what the team needs to do to maintain momentum early.
"We've got to get back to emphasizing details. And then, some of the things we, quite honestly, did last week, but we've got to now look at kind of an accountability — both as players and coaches — to making sure that we hold ourselves to that standard from the jump and not need to have a record-setting-type comeback to find a way to get a win," O'Connell said. "Although it's great and we know we've done that, and maybe not at the pace of needing 39 points in a half, but we've done that this year, where we've been able to find ways to win games collectively as a team that I think helped us understand that it was possible, regardless of the number the other day.
"But also, at the same time, knowing where we're hopefully headed, we're going to have to play better football throughout that game to not set ourselves back the way we did and really give ourselves a chance to win it by not trying to actively lose the game with some bad football early on," O'Connell continued. "That's what I've really been spending some time on and really trying to look closely at, where we're at as a team in all three phases. 'Where are the potential areas of the game that we must address and improve?' And then, 'where are the things that may have been an outlier that we were just able to overcome?' And hopefully, we don't have to overcome those things again."
With the division title in their back pockets, O'Connell and the Vikings can turn their focus toward the next goal of possibly securing the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Philadelphia (13-1) currently holds the top seed in the NFC after edging Chicago 25-20 Sunday.
O'Connell added at the same time, though, he has to make sure the team is as healthy as possible going into the postseason.
View game action photos of the Week 15 matchup between the Vikings and the Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"We're still on the hunt for improvement and continuing to get better as a team. To do that, you do have to play football across the board, but that does not mean that snap counts don't need to be monitored," O'Connell said. "We'll take a look at each individual situation to make sure — the priority is having a healthy team and the best possible version of our team when we do get to the playoffs now that we know we'll at least be there, but there's a lot to still actively chase from a standpoint of week-in and week-out from a preparation standpoint to understanding what the result may mean for potential seeding, maybe if you're able to get through that first round, the opportunity to maybe host another playoff game. We'll take a look at the whole thing. We'll make sure the guys that have bumps and bruises and have played a lot of snaps — we do have some of those guys — that we're finding ways to not only give them some time here and there but also the development of players that maybe we're excited to see continue to grow behind those guys."
Here's an additional takeaway from O'Connell's availability on Monday:
O'Connell said wide receiver Justin Jefferson "came out strong" after taking multiple hits, including one 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Colts safety Rodney Thomas II along the sideline early in the fourth quarter and one on a helmet-to-helmet hit by cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the next Vikings possession. Jefferson had to leave the game for a bit after that one, as well as after a hit in the second quarter, but he finished the game despite a rib/chest injury.
"I think it was about the fifth or sixth week in a row he took a type of hit that drew a flag," O'Connell said. "Clearly there's an emphasis on the teams we're playing that some of those hits they don't just seem to be by accident at times, but Justin came out great. He should be good throughout the week."
O'Connell said he hopes to get cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., a full week of practice this week. Dantzler was available for Saturday's game after recovering from an illness but didn't play.
O'Connell added he will also see how both linebacker Eric Kendricks and center Garrett Bradbury progress throughout the week. Kendricks suffered a hip contusion Saturday, and Bradbury missed a second consecutive game due to a back injury.