MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North title Saturday with — ho, hum — the biggest comeback in NFL history.
Powered by a new coaching staff and largely the same roster that had missed the postseason in three of the past four years, the Vikings overcame a 33-point halftime deficit to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The 33-point comeback exceeded the previous record of 32, set by the Buffalo Bills in the 1992 playoffs against the Houston Oilers. Coach Kevin O’Connell led the team to its 11th victory in his first 14th game as its head coach.
The historic win eliminated the Vikings’ last remaining competitor, the Detroit Lions, from contention for the NFC North title. After winning their first division title in five years, and sixth since the turn of the century, the Vikings hold a one-game lead over the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed.
The Vikings fired former coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman the day after the 2021 season. Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to replace Spielman, and Adofo-Mensah signed off on their choice of O’Connell as the new coach.
Together, the Vikings’ new leadership decided against blowing up a veteran roster that had lost eight games by one possession in 2021. Instead, Adofo-Mensah initiated what he called a “competitive rebuild,” hoping to squeeze as many wins from the existing core as possible before beginning the process of turning over key positions with younger players.
O’Connell redesigned the offense around receiver Justin Jefferson, who has jumped to the top of NFL receiving rankings. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has produced the worst statistical performance of his five seasons in Minnesota, but he has led seven fourth-quarter comebacks, including Saturday, and has thanked O’Connell repeatedly for empowering him to play through his mistakes.
Cousins is one of many returning veterans who have powered this season’s surge, including eight who are at least 30 years old: receiver Adam Thielen, linebackers Za’Darius Smith, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks, cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Harrison Smith.