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The Most Wonderful Time Of The Game: 2022 Vikings In The Fourth Quarter

155 to 77. Throughout their 15 games this season the Vikings have outscored their opponents 155 to 77 in the fourth quarter/OT. 41% of the team’s 378 points have come in the final act. I’m no longer subscribing to the “winning these close games is not sustainable” narrative. What we’re seeing is not a hot streak at the Baccarat table. This is a tangible extra gear.

Where Does It Come From?

This extra gear, who installed it? Whose foot is on the clutch (get it?)? The coaching staff is a factor. Something that seems to have trickled down is the collective lack of panic, even in the face of dire circumstances. Kevin O’Connell doesn’t panic; he doesn’t waver. His veteran staff doesn’t panic. This translates to their players on the field.

What I think has been even more impactful, and potentially rarer, is the buy-in and subsequent leadership that’s come from the players. There are eight team captains who have been integral to the success of this squad but this roster is littered with high-character players who’ve embraced the culture at every level. KOC was tasked with selecting eight but 22 Vikings received votes from their peers to be a captain.

Ultimately, the Coach/Quarterback combination will always be the most important vessel of leadership within an organization — Belichek and Brady. Walsh and Montana. Landry and Staubach. — and the tandem in place for the Vikings this year has the rest of this roster prepared to run through a brick wall at their behest.

Kirko Chainz

“Kirko Chainz” went from an endearing nickname, to a persona, to an enigma. His teammates obviously enjoy Kirk off the field, but it is chiefly what he’s done while on it that has his teammates rallying behind their QB.

The Ribshot Robot

Kirk Cousins is not a particularly evasive man, and he’s certainly nothing like these pocket matadors like Mahomes or Allen; and he knows it. Kirk Cousins biding time, giving his receiver an extra split second to create separation before letting it fly looks very different than those QBs. He doesn’t stiff arm an oncoming rusher or juke out of the pocket to do this – he just waits a little bit longer and often ensures he gets planted by the pass rush.

And then he gets up.

Every time.

Per TruMedia Sports, Cousins has been hit 125 times this season, the most in the NFL, and the most times any quarterback has been hit through 15 games since at least 2000, when they first began tracking the metric.

Just yesterday we saw several like this but it’s not anything new. This toughness and self-sacrifice undoubtedly motivates the guys around him; knowing the man at the helm of the offense, huddling them up every play, with the C on his chest and the largest paycheck on the teamj every week is willing to put himself in harm’s way for this team.

The Comeback Kirk

I mean.. this is getting ridiculous, right? The game-winning drives feel as inevitable as Brett Favre’s used to feel against the Vikings. Statistically they’re more so! Kirk dials in his accuracy and Kevin O’Connell has done a great job calling plays late in games and on these final drives in particular to get the offense down the field.

Don’t Overthink It

Someone who also drives a lot of this execution down the stretch for the Vikings is Justin Jefferson and Kirk is not afraid to feed him against even the tightest coverage. This is the correct approach because of course it is. In the “gotta-have-it” moments, throw it to your transcendental receiver and trust your best player to make a play. Just let him win.

We Love You, Kevin

There is not nearly enough that can be said about first year Head Coach, Kevin O’Connell. There are some gripes to be had with his playcalling or decision -making at times, but those blunders pale in comparison to the colossal positives the team has derived from having him as a leader.

Kulture

Culture is not tangible or measurable. It’s not a stat, but you know a good team culture when you see it and the Vikings have one.

Culture is something that, in the realm of the NFL and pro sports in general, can be overstated. The following is not an overestatement: Kevin O’Connell is the main reason this team went from 6-8 in one-score games last season to 11-0 this season. The players love him, he loves the players. Kevin O’Connell mic’d up is always a treat and the postgame speech energy is excellent as well.

Something I’ll always remember is something he said to Bears’ cast-off and recent Practice Squad call-up Duke Shelley right before he took the field for his first start for the Vikings. He patted him on the back and said into his ear “Hey man, nobody [expletive]-ing wants you out there more than me!”

He’s “empowered the players”.

It’s worked.

Game Management

Down the stretches of games O’Connell has won the chess match.

Not necessarily with anything special either. The playbook actually seems to condense and the Vikings go to a few of their “money” plays more often. Tunnel screens to Justin Jefferson, Smash and Flood concepts to the boundary, and the classic digs that Jefferson and Thielen run so masterfully are seen often on third and medium-to-longs.

As an offensive playcaller, KOC definitely has some cold-spells but they’re usually early on.

Like I mentioned with Kirk, O’Connell loves scheming Jefferson open to make sure his premier talent is utilized. We’re starting to see some of the same with TJ Hockenson.

This Team, Man

Top to bottom, the roster has banded together and played their hearts out each and every game. They motivate each other, lift each other up and play as a unit. When they’re on, they can beat any team in the league. Now with a chance to end the Packers’ playoff hopes and potentially stay alive for the number one seed in the conference next week, I expect another fun, ridiculous win from the most objectively entertaining team in football.

Skol to the Bowl, and Merry Christmas!

Rather listen? Follow our podcasts at NFL on Stadium Rant on Spotify and check out Necessary Roughness on Youtube Tuesdays at 8:00pm Central, and both of our fantasy shows.

I also write about the rest of the NFC North and for the Bears, they’re already in mock draft mode. My colleague Josh just finished up our collective All-NFC North team as voted on by our staff. See who made the cut!

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