The Vikings refused to throw in the pink towels Sunday and nearly toppled the Broncos.
Minnesota made one thing clear after a 23-20 decision in Denver: the game and first quarter of the 2015 season may be over, but the fight isn't.
The Vikings overcame deficits of 13 in the first half and 10 in the second to tie the game with 5:11 left. They had Peyton Manning in check for most of the game, keep the ball away from the five-time NFL MVP and picking him off two times to set up 10 points for the offense.
Manning managed to lead a field goal drive, going 2-for-4 for 28 yards that was balanced by 22 yards rushing and benefitted from a pass interference call against Xavier Rhodes on a second-and-5.
Second-year pro Teddy Bridgewater, who was making the 16th start of his career, tried to at least duplicate the feat, but the Broncos forced a fumble on their seventh sack.
"We were in this game and had an opportunity to win it. We were a couple of plays away," Bridgewater said. "This is one of those games where you have to be perfect. We know that we're going to be in another game like this at some point this year and make sure we come out on top."
Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings had a chance, but Denver "played better than we did. I think we made too many mistakes to win."
Zimmer has frequently talked about wanting to develop a team that can win in the fourth quarter and was encouraged by the resolve to stay in the game.
"The positive thing is we have a lot of fighters on this football team," Zimmer said. "We have some good players. I told them last night in the meeting I was going to be aggressive and we were going to go for it when we had the opportunities to do it and they were all for it. Sometimes you've got to play that way, but I'm disappointed. I know there's a lot of things we could have done better, and if we had done those things better, I think the outcome may have been different, but Denver is a good football team. They're a good all-around football team."
The Vikings enter their bye week at 2-2, along with at least four other NFC teams. Through four weeks — except for Monday's contest between Detroit (0-3) and Seattle (1-2) — in the books, only four of the 16 teams in the NFC have winning records. Minnesota hosts Kansas City (Oct. 18) to begin the first round of 12 that remain.
"Our guys just kept fighting," Zimmer said. "It could have been ugly to start, but we made a bunch of plays and have a lot of fighters on this football team. There's still a lot of football left."
TDs on fourth-and-1s
The second touchdowns scored by Denver and Minnesota occurred on fourth downs. The Broncos were a yard shy of the goal line and opted for a pass by Manning to Owen Daniels.
The Vikings answer on fourth-and-1 near midfield? A 48-yard touchdown by Adrian Peterson, who zipped through a hole between a combo block on the left side by Matt Kalil and Brandon Fusco and a seal to the right by center Joe Berger.
"The offensive line did a great job of imposing their will," said Peterson, who had 16 carries for 81 yards. "It was a critical down, and we needed a yard. Due to their effort, we were able to get something big out of it."
The long TD run gave Peterson 94 scores for his career, moving him past 93 by Randy Moss for second-most in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Cris Carter's 110.
The Broncos hadn't blitzed too frequently this season, maybe in part because of the pressure that edge rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller have been able to exert without bringing extra men. Denver, however, managed to ice the game with a delayed blitz by T.J. Ward from the corner. Ward knocked the ball free from Bridgewater, and Miller recovered it.
Peterson released, running a route for a check-down. The running back blamed himself.
"It's definitely frustrating, especially when I feel like it's my fault. They did a good job of disguising and bringing Ward off the edge," Peterson said. "He kind of hesitated behind (LB Brandon Marshall) wrapping around. I released, and (Ward) shot and made the play, so that's one that I'll definitely learn from. Personally, I look at that and put that on me because it doesn't matter what happened throughout the game, we were in that moment and I've got to come through and make that block for Teddy."
Bridgewater, however, didn't assign blame to an individual.
"It was a look that we just didn't pick up," Bridgewater said. "Denver did a great job of scheming us up in the two-minute drill and we just didn't execute on that play."
Zimmer said Denver blitzed more than they had shown on film during the young season.
"They ran a couple of blitzes that we had not seen early," Zimmer said. "They hit us with a strong safety coming off the edge. They hadn't been a big pressure team, but after a while we kind of settled down. Teddy settled down a little bit."
Bridgewater finished 27-of-41 passing for 269 yards with a touchdown and a passer rating of 92.4.
Rookie Stefon Diggs had an impressive debut in his first NFL action. Diggs had six catches for 87 yards and was part of a receiving corps that elevated production to offset Charles Johnson being out and Jarius Wright working through a hand injury.
Eric Kendricks, a classmate of Diggs, made his first start when the Vikings opened the game in their nickel defense. Kendricks joined former UCLA teammate as Minnesota's two linebackers in the unit. Kendricks recorded his first career sack on a delayed blitz of his own. Manning however, was able to duck for cover before taking too much of a hit from Kendricks.
The Vikings first possession of the second quarter stalled at the Denver 20 after a 25-yard catch by Diggs. Minnesota missed an opportunity to tie the game at 3 when a 38-yard field goal attempt by Blair Walsh was wide left.
Denver was able to create a 10-point swing with one snap when Ronnie Hillman turned the left corner and streaked down the sidelines for a 72-yard touchdown. The score accounted for half of the Broncos rushing yards on the day and was a big boon for a team that entered the contest averaging 57 rushing yards a game.
"The long run was a bad [play] call on my part," Zimmer said. "Some of the runs later on, we didn't play very good, but this offense is difficult because they go flat and they cut [block] and get on guys knees and legs, so it's always a difficult offense to play."
Pink gear returns
The pink towels and other gear are used in October for the NFL's "A Crucial Catch" campaign to create awareness about breast cancer, salute survivors and honor those who fought the disease. The game-used gear is eventually auctioned to raise money to fight breast cancer.