Not much went according to plan for the Minnesota Vikings in 2020. The team was projected to win nine or ten games by most reputable sportsbooks and contend with the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title. Instead, Minnesota spent the meaningful part of the playoff hunt clawing at the newly-instituted seventh seed in the NFC while the Packers stormed to 13 wins and a division championship. Aaron Rodgers even won an MVP behind 48 touchdown passes.
Homefield advantage died. The Vikings were a dreary 3-5 at U.S. Bank Stadium and 4-4 on the road – an odd change of pace for a franchise renowned via taking care of business at home, whether The Metrodome or U.S. Bank Stadium. In fact, Minnesota was the league’s fourth-best home team from the time U.S. Bank Stadium was erected up to the start of 2020. When 2020 bottomed out, that home record since-2016 mark fell to 10th best in the industry.
A glimmer of positivity shined through in 2020, though. During the last five seasons, the Vikings are 42-0 when leading at the end of the third quarter. That is – head coach Mike Zimmer’s team has not lost a game when entering the fourth quarter with a lead in five years.
This obscure-but-intriguing stat parameter was in dire jeopardy for much of 2020. Vikings games during the pandemic season were unusually tight on the scoreboard. In previous years of the Zimmer regime, Minnesota tended to win decisively – or lose decisively. Interestingly, the Vikings were the only NFL team in 2020 to participate in more than two games that the final score margin was exactly one point.
All in all, the undefeated streak survived.
Blown 4th Quarter Lead a Memorable One
The last game in which the Vikings entered the fourth quarter with a lead – and lost – was the 2015 NFC Wildcard playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. This was thanks to Blair Walsh voodoo. Led by second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings plodded into the fourth quarter with a 9-0 lead. This was the third-coldest game in NFL history – and it was a defensive slobberknocker.
Ultimately, a 27-year-old Russell Wilson one-upped the Vikings with 10 points in the final period. Meanwhile, kicker Blair Walsh blatantly missed a game-winning field goal from 27 yards away. Zimmer was deprived of his first playoff victory, TCF Bank Stadium would never again host a professional football game, and Teddy Bridgewater’s starting-quarterback career with the Vikings unceremoniously died.
And that was the final time to date that Minnesota lost a game when leading at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“Vikings Always Blow It” Is Misleading
If one has been a fan of the Vikings for more than a decade, a popular narrative sounds something like, “Minnesota always finds a way to blow it.”
There are several circumstances – at the most heart-wrenching moments – that this accurate. Pivotal playoff experiences like 1998, 2009, and the aforementioned 2015 debacle are evidence.
Yet, the Vikings have not “blown it” in the last half-decade. Their molars were kicked in versus the Philadelphia Eagles in January of 2018 during the NFC Championship — with a home Super Bowl on the line. So, yes, the franchise “blew” that opportunity. But late-game meltdowns have been wholly absent since the Walsh malfeasance against the Seahawks.
Inside of the Minneapolis Miracle playoff game during the 2017 season, the Vikings tried to cough away certain victory, but Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs vehemently dissented.
League’s Only Undefeated Team in this Parameter
Is this statistic a big deal? Yes – to a degree. Minnesota is the only undefeated team leaguewide to enter the fourth quarter of football games with a lead – and win every single time since the start of 2016. Five full seasons.
The next-closest team to perfection with this parameter is – surprise, surprise – the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick’s team is 57-2 (.966) in the last five seasons when leading at the end of the third quarter. They win 97% of such games. The Vikings have won 100% of the time.
The most notorious team in this regard during the same timeframe to choke away fourth-quarter leads is the Cincinnati Bengals. Since 2016, Cincinnati has trotted into the fourth quarter with a lead 31 times. They have lost or tied on 11 occasions. For perspective, the Bengals have squandered over one-third of all fourth-quarter leads during the last five seasons.