Minnesota Vikings punter Ryan Quigley booted a 34-yard punt that was fair caught by Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson at his own 10-yard line. Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky trotted onto the field with his team tied at 17-17 on Monday Night Football against Minnesota.
The Vikings were reeling, having just been defeated in ugly fashion at home against the Detroit Lions and desperately needing a win to avoid dropping below .500. Chicago’s offense, which had found some success in the second half, needed to drive approximately 50 yards in the final 2:32 of the game to have a chance at a game-winning field goal.
Minnesota needed an enormous play to not only save its chances of beating the Bears, but perhaps save its season. Quarterback Sam Bradford’s knee injury was clearly worse than everyone originally thought and would be out for the foreseeable future. Star rookie running back Dalvin Cook had blown out his knee in the loss to Detroit, ending a strong first-year campaign albeit in a small sample size.
The Vikings needed this win. They needed to break the ‘Soldier Field Curse’ — Minnesota had won at Soldier Field once since the George Bush administration.
On the first play of the drive, Trubisky rolled out to his right as the pocket collapsed. Bears tight end Zach Miller, originally running a flat route against man-to-man coverage by Harrison Smith, sees Trubisky roll out and bolts up the sideline. Trubisky, seeing big-play potential, fires in Miller’s direction.
Smith, in recognizing a rookie quarterback trying to be a hero, trails Miller enough to create a perceived window for Trubisky to throw in. Little did Trubisky know that Smith was ready to pounce as soon as the ball was released.
The All-Pro safety undercut Miller and intercepted the pass, setting up the Vikings with terrific field position and eventually a game-winning field goal by Kai Forbath.
Minnesota went on to win seven more games in a row after the Smith interception. Mike Zimmer’s defense suffocated opposing offenses, holding the opposition to the fewest yards and fewest points in the NFL. Meanwhile, backup quarterback Case Keenum was inserted into the lineup for the rest of the season for Bradford and, with an excellent second half against Chicago, found a groove that contributed to the eight-game winning streak and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The significance of the ending to the Bears win has been forgotten. It set the tone for the rest of the season — big-time players will make big-time plays when they’re needed, and the rest will take care of itself. It doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win. The Vikings did plenty of that in 2017.
The 2017 season includes plenty more examples of this — the Thanksgiving interception by Xavier Rhodes to close out Detroit, the late first-down catch by Adam Thielen against Atlanta, Anthony Harris’s forced fumble and recovery at the 1-yard line against the Los Angeles Rams, and of course — the Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs walk-off touchdown in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Those moments aren’t possible without a roster full of big-time players all over the place. Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have constructed a masterpiece. And it’s been this way for a couple of seasons — but injuries and shanked kicks have deflected national recognition from the winning foundation that has been built in Minnesota.
Skol Scale Figure: 9
The loss to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship absolutely stings. For sure. But a one-game sample doesn’t take away from what the team proved in the other 17 games. The Vikings are primed for more Super Bowl runs in the near-future, regardless of who the offensive coordinator is or even who the quarterback is.
Indeed, Zimmer and Spielman have built a winning foundation in Minnesota. And it isn’t going away anytime soon.
Minnesota exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations this season. But for those who have followed the Vikings the past couple of years, the 2017 success wasn’t necessarily surprising. The boatload of talent was there. The coaching was there. The Vikings just needed to avoid a major case of the injury bug or some unforgivable missed field goal and the results would finally show up.
The 2017 recap Skol Scale isn’t quite a perfect 10 because there are still a few holes that need to be filled. The uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position in particular limits the Skol Scale potential. And of course, Pat Shurmur’s departure from offensive coordinator will also need to be addressed. However, regardless of who fills those positions, the Vikings are poised for more success in 2018.