The Impetus Behind the Vikings Colossal Comeback

NFL Analyst Criticizes Kirk Cousins
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings have been called “frauds,” “the worst (insert current record here) team ever,” and “PRETENDERS.” On Saturday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium, all those narratives were on the verge of being etched in stone. Until K.J. Osborn happened.

With Minnesota trailing 33-0 midway through the 3rd quarter, Osborn injected a dose of lifeblood into an anemic offense with a streaking 63-yard catch-and-run to set up his team in the red zone for the first time that afternoon. After he was finally wrestled to the ground inside the 5-yard line, Osborn sprung to his feet and flexed his rippling frame toward the end-zone crowd. The gesture seemed silly at the time. No matter how many explosive plays his team would pull off, making the game even remotely interesting, let alone winning it, seemed far-fetched.

K.J. seemed to know something that we did not. 

Three plays later, Osborn beat Stephon Gilmore to the pylon for Minnesota’s first score of the day. The former 5th-round draft pick flung the ball back toward the field of play and re-flexed his arms, and pounded his chest in the direction of the crowd, looking to instill some hope into an otherwise lifeless group. The deficit was still 26. As if he cared.

“K.J. was just electric the whole day. When we had no energy all around, K.J. Osborn was that guy … keeping the fight alive in us,” said All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks. 

By now, you know how this movie ended: Minnesota overcame the largest deficit in NFL history by scoring the game’s final 32 points in the NFC-North-Clinching victory over Indianapolis. 

Down But Never Out

Lord Have Mercy. What Is This Team?
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

If Kevin O’Connell’s Vikings are one thing, they are resilient, as evidenced by the complete 180-degree maneuver they pulled on Saturday. Not only did Minnesota need to overcome a massive deficit which they at least in part created for themselves, but also multiple questionable officiating decisions. 

On two different occasions, Vikings cornerback Chandon Sullivan had defensive touchdowns called back due to a premature whistle. Each time – once in the first half down 23-0, the other down 36-28 with 3:27 to go – could have been the blow that finally knocked the Vikings out. 

Osborn was asked about the frustrating whistles. His words embodied how the team responded. “So what? Now what? Keep going, go out there and execute.”

Football is a team game. But sometimes, a team needs to be rescued from peril by an individual. On Saturday, history may have never been made without Osborn’s energy, anger, and effectiveness. 

For a player who had never eclipsed the century mark in a single game, Osborn turned in his best game as a pro with 10 catches for 157 yards, a team high. He was targeted 16 times, tied for most on the team with Justin Jefferson, displaying the hard-earned trust that Kirk Cousins has in him. 

“K.J. is a guy that all season long, I’ve felt we need to get him more targets, more opportunities. I have total confidence in him to be an elite, elite receiver in this league,” Cousins said following the win while sporting a loud Vikings-themed blazer.

“Chop Wood, Carry Water”

How the Greatest Comeback in NFL History Went Down
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

A big part of the trust that Osborn has earned is due to his quiet, humble, sacrificial nature. A favorite mantra of his, “chop wood, carry water,” comes from a book of the same title and invokes the philosophy of putting his head down and working to improve, regardless of the results. 

He doesn’t pout when the ball isn’t thrown his way. There are games where it feels like he isn’t part of the game plan. On four occasions this season, Osborn has had less than 10 yards receiving. Fans have called for a reduction in his snaps in favor of Jalen Reagor. None of this matters to him.

“I’ve just been waiting for my opportunity. This week I just tried to go back and focus on my details … and let the chips fall where they may, and take advantage of my opportunities. And today, they came. I’m just blessed.”

Blessed. Another one of his favorite words. 

A young man blessed with a stout, bulky frame, Osborn used every ounce of his strength to will his team on Saturday, grinding his way upfield for 97 yards after the catch, many of which came after contact. K.J. moved the chains on 8 of his 10 catches, including a 15-yard gain in which he broke two tackles on the game-winning drive in overtime. 

Multiple Vikings Headline Final Pro Bowl Voting
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Players like K.J. Osborn can become an afterthought on a team endowed with Justin Jefferson. Afterthought or not, the Michigan native delivered the goods to will his team to a division title.

Saturday represented who K.J. Osborn is, and K.J. Osborn represents who the 2022 Minnesota Vikings are. Grit, will, and gratitude perfectly embody perhaps the strangest 11-3 team in NFL history. 

“Down 30 in the NFL, I mean, come on now. There was no doubt. We just kept chopping wood, chopping wood.”

Note: statistics and game information were sourced from Pro Football Reference.

Will is a husband, father of two, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.