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The Vikings – 4th Quarter Supremacists?

The Vikings are best when it counts... Sort of

An extremely prevalent talking point surrounding the Minnesota Vikings is that the team “always finds a way to blow it.” To be sure, this is irrefutably true when referring to the 1970s squads that failed to win Super Bowls in four appearances. It’s even true for NFC Championship lore – the Vikings have lost six consecutive versions of those. This analysis does not seek to forgive the Vikings for sins of the father as a Super Bowl-less franchise. The Vikings are a damn successful franchise – without a Lombardi trophy. And the latter is a big deal.

Here’s the rub: With the Vikings and crucial situations as the topic, the recurring events that arise in memory banks are the 1998 NFC Championship folly, the egregious ineptitude of the 2000 NFC Championship, the 2009 NFC Championship meltdown, or the 2015 Wildcard Playoff foolishness. That’s a lot – undoubtedly. There are even additional stomach-churners to be found if one digs deep enough.

Yet, sad memories of past events do not mandate that team – in the here and now – “always chokes.” Indeed, the cliché is irresistible at times as eyeballs roll into the backs of heads or holes are punched in walls. But linking the old-Vikings with the contemporary brand entails a logical disconnect.

On a large scale, this is flushed out in the numbers after the 2015 NFC Wildcard game. The following will not proclaim that the Vikings are the best fourth-quarter team in the NFL, but it will help to squash the “always blow it” narrative regarding recency.

42 Straight Wins when Leading at End of 3rd Q

The Vikings have carried leads into the fourth quarter of games 42 times since the start of 2016. On all 42 occasions, the Vikings won the football game. That’s it. This statistic is not debatable or interpretive.

Minnesota is the only NFL team that is undefeated in this parameter. No other franchise has a pristine record amid the last five seasons in squandering leads when heading into the fourth quarter. To the chagrin of no one, the Patriots are the second-closest in this metric. New England is 57-2 (.966) in the last five seasons when leading at the end of the third quarter. The Vikings are 42-0.

Conversely, the Vikings are not gangbusters in circumventing fourth-quarter deficits. In the same timeframe, when Minnesota trails at the end of the third quarter, they win just 12% of the time. This ranks 21st in the league for win percentage in the from-behind metric. The league average in these situations is 15%. That is, NFL teams that trail to start the fourth quarter win 15% of the time. Here, Minnesota dips to 3% comparative to the league average.

But when they have a lead – they sure as hell keep it. Again – this is not disputable.

Last Loss vs. Seattle. Yes, That One

Do you remember how devastated you were when Blair Walsh pierced the game-winning kick against the Seattle Seahawks into kittywampus oblivion? Good – because nothing of the sort has happened since.

The not-relinquishing-leads at the start of the 4th Quarter streak for the Vikings was born at that moment. Walsh’s whoopsy marked the final time the team would blow a lead when ahead to start the final period. Perhaps this is serendipity, maybe it’s a sheer excellence. It is probably somewhere in between as just one undefeated team with this parameter would constitute a bizarre outlier.

It should also be noted that the Vikings “tried” to kill this fortuitous trend in January of 2018. Minnesota jumped on top of the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 Divisional Playoff game, only to smother the early-game prosperity with miscues. That game tangibly could have (or should have) been coughed away.

But nope. A Minneapolis Miracle occurred enabling the streak to proceed.

Testament to Coaching

One consistent piece of the Vikings can claim credit for this impressive feat – Mike Zimmer. The 64-year-old has skippered the team since 2014, so he has been in charge for the duration of the streak. Sure, a handful of players have been mainstays since 2016 – Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Harris, and Adam Thielen. But Zimmer is the only person accountable for the entirety of the product. If this neat stat matters, he is the beholder.

A mundane (but cool) stat from VikingsTerritory will not change your mind on the efficacy of the Vikings performance in crucial situations, nor will memories of 1998, 2000, 2009, or 2015 be expunged from your psyche.

But ask yourself: Have the Vikings had a true fourth-quarter meltdown since the Blair Walsh implosion?

No, they haven’t.

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Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

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