MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings had barely moved the ball at all, when they gathered in a humbled locker room after an awful first half.
Picking up the pace with the two-minute offense was about their only hope of a comeback. They delivered one in stunning fashion against the Denver Broncos.
“Suddenly, it just has a different feel to it, and the next thing you know, you’re going,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
The Vikings erased a 20-0 halftime deficit with touchdowns on each of their four drives in the second half, fending off the Broncos by forcing three straight incomplete passes in the end zone over the final 10 seconds to preserve a 27-23 victory Sunday.
This was the first time in five years — a span of 100 games including the playoffs — that an NFL team won after trailing by 20 or more points at halftime, though New England did defeat Atlanta in Super Bowl 51 after an 18-point deficit after two quarters grew to 28-3.
“We can’t count ourselves out. We had 30 minutes of football. Was it going to take perfect football? Most likely,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “But all we can go out there and do is worry about the first drive, and getting points, and see what happens.”
Cousins went 29-for-35 for 319 yards and three scores for the Vikings (8-3), overcoming a system-wide failure in the first half that included a lost fumble of his during a sack that led to one of three field goals by Brandon McManus for the Broncos (3-7).
Cousins hit Stefon Diggs for a 54-yard touchdown pass that brought the crowd noise to a deafening level and cut the lead to 23-20. McManus went wide right from 41 yards on his fourth attempt, and Cousins found Rudolph wide open for a 32-yard score on the next possession with 6:10 left.
“I like when adversity hits and you see what kind of guys you’ve got,” Diggs said.
Both of those throws by Cousins came off bootleg rollouts to his left, the type of passing play he has long thrived on. After being stymied for just 47 total yards in the first half, the Vikings turned to their hurry-up offense with enviable results.
“Throwing an interception into double coverage is not going to get you back in the game,” Cousins said. “So you take what they give you. You play one play at a time, and you trust that if they give you a shot, you take it.”
Brandon Allen, the fill-in quarterback after the injury to Joe Flacco and the impending debut of rookie Drew Lock, drove the Broncos to the cusp of a comeback of their own with a drive that included three fourth-down conversions.
With 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line, but only 10 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Allen had three chances at the winner. Trae Waynes knocked down the first one, Jayron Kearse had a hand on the second and the last try for Noah Fant sailed past the rookie tight end after he and Kearse tussled for position.
The Broncos have not scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter for six straight games. The last team guilty of such a severe second-half collapse was Atlanta on Oct. 26, 2014, when a 21-0 lead at home turned into a 22-21 victory for Detroit. According to Sportradar, this was only the 14th time in NFL history that a 20-plus-point halftime deficit turned into defeat.
“Didn’t sustain any drives,” Allen said, “and that put our defense in a bad spot.”
Ravens 41, Texans 7
In Baltimore, Lamar Jackson threw four touchdown passes, ran for 86 yards and helped Baltimore roll to its sixth straight victory.
The game was billed as a matchup between first-place AFC teams and two of the best double-threat quarterbacks in the NFL.
Jackson and the Baltimore defense made it a one-sided affair, and the Ravens (8-2) are riding their longest winning streak since a seven-game run in 2000, their first Super Bowl season.
Patriots 17, Eagles 10
In Philadelphia, Julian Edelman threw a go-ahead 15-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett and New England rallied for a victory over the Eagles.
Tom Brady threw for 216 yards, leading New England (9-1) back from a 10-0 deficit, but it was Edelman, the Patriots’ wide receiver, who found a target in the end zone. The Pats defense sacked Carson Wentz five times and forced one turnover.
49ers 36, Cardinals 26
In Santa Clara, California, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Wilson Jr. with 31 seconds left for his fourth TD pass of the game and the 49ers rallied for a victory over Arizona.
Garoppolo connected with Wilson over the middle for the go-ahead score one play after the Niners (9-1) narrowly converted on a third-and-3 pass that went to replay review.
Instead of being ruled short and having to decide whether to kick a tying field goal or go for it on fourth down, San Francisco had a new set of downs and took advantage on Wilson’s first career touchdown catch.
Saints 34, Buccaneers 17
In Tampa, Drew Brees threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns to lead New Orleans over the Buccaneers.
The NFC South leaders (8-2) rebounded from a 26-9 loss to struggling Atlanta, with NFL receptions leader Michael Thomas becoming the first player in league history with 90-plus catches in the first 10 games of a season and Brees tossing TD passes of 16 yards to Thomas, 3 yards to Jared Cook and 6 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. after being held out of the end zone by the Falcons.
In Other Games
Cowboys 35, Lions 27
Colts 33, Jaguars 13
Bills 37, Dolphins 20
Falcons 29, Panthers 3
Jets 34, Redskins 17
Raiders 17, Bengals 10