The Vikings held a five-point lead with three minutes left in the game.
All they had to do, really, was hold onto the ball. It’s likely that most watching the game expected Minnesota to string together a few run plays and try to eat up the clock.
But Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski had another idea entirely.
On second-and-5 from his own 30-yard line, Kirk Cousins dropped back, faked a handoff to Dalvin Cook and then let the play-action pass fly.
He targeted Stefon Diggs, who caught the deep ball at the Detroit 33 near the right sideline. The receiver stutter-stepped, pivoted and sprinted across the field, outrunning two defenders before finally being dragged down by Lions safety Tavon Wilson inside the 5.
The impressive 66-yard play (during which Diggs actually covered 102.3 yards of ground) set up the Vikings sixth and final touchdown of the day, a 4-yard run by Cook two plays later.
“[It was] just the offensive coordinator drawing it up and me doing my job,” Diggs said nonchalantly of the play. “I don’t call the plays. But if I was to say, that was a great play call.”
Asked if he was surprised by the call that some could consider risky, Diggs just shook his head.
“No, not at all,” he told media members. “Coach Stefanski always comes up to me and says, ‘You’re not scared, are you?’ as a joke. But in that situation, I always expect him to do everything he can to put us in a position to win it. In that moment, he took a shot.”
Diggs’ catch and ensuing score by Cook widened the point margin and sealed the division road win for Minnesota.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said during his postgame press conference that he wanted to “stay aggressive” offensively and put the game on ice.
“We were moving the ball pretty well and felt like we had to,” Zimmer said. “It was a play we had up after a play-action, and we had a chance for Diggs in space. There wasn’t much conversation. We didn’t come here to cower down … we came here to try and hit it.”
A number of other players were asked about the shot downfield at that point in the game.
Cousins pointed out that if Detroit’s defense had managed to stifle Minnesota’s progress, the Vikings would have had no choice but to punt the ball back to the Lions while clinging to a small lead. And worth considering is that Lions QB Matthew Stafford currently ranks sixth among active quarterbacks with 34 career game-winning drives.
Cousins walked through the play:
“They were loading the box with all-out. There wasn’t safety help. That corner had to defend Stefon Diggs across 53 yards of field and 80 yards deep,” he explained. “We felt like, ‘We don’t want to punt back to them and give them a chance, so let’s take advantage of the fact that they’re going to load the box and call a play that puts Diggsy in position to get open.
“He did a great job of getting separation, catching it and getting us down inside the 5,” Cousins added.
Vikings teammates told reporters that the play was one they’d been practicing for a similar situation.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph said the call shows the trust level that Stefanski has in Cousins, and that Cousins has in Diggs.
“But also, it takes trust in eight other guys to know we’re going to be able to protect that,” Rudolph said. “The worst thing that can happen is Kirk gets hit and the ball comes out. To trust those eight guys to give Kirk the time to throw the ball downfield in that situation, it’s huge. It’s a gutsy call, and a big call for us.”
The play not only wowed fans but also wide receiver Adam Thielen, who left the game with a hamstring injury after scoring a first-quarter touchdown.
View the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" following the 42-30 victory over the Lions in Week 7 at Ford Field.
Thielen had a unique perspective – and one he’s not accustomed to – during the play and called it “crazy.” But he also emphasized that he thought it was a great call in that scenario.
“We had the perfect guy to run that route and the perfect guy to throw it. Unbelievable play,” Thielen said. “I’m so excited for them, the guys in this offense, the guys on this team and the way that they work and continue to grind.
“And then the aggressive play-calling by the coaches,” Thielen added. “It was an all-out from the top down, which is really cool to watch.”