Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a tackle against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Vikings 39, Colts 36 (OT)
The Minnesota Vikings began Saturday’s matinee against the Indianapolis Colts seeking an NFC North division title. With their opponent sitting at 4-8-1 on the season, the Vikings had to feel good about their chances – but after a hot start for Indianapolis, all bets were off at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Colts’ first drive started close to midfield thanks to an excellent return of the opening kickoff, and quarterback Matt Ryan quickly led Indianapolis deep into Minnesota territory. The Colts would settle for an opening-drive field goal. Moments later, Indianapolis’ defense forced a quick three-and-out by the Vikings’ offense. Ifeadi Odenigbo blocked the Minnesota punt, and JoJo Domann returned the football for a touchdown and a 10-0 Colts lead that left the home crowd in stunned silence.
Minnesota’s second drive proved almost as disastrous as its first. Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball back to the Colts, setting Indy up with an opportunity to take a three-possession lead. Indianapolis made the most of the chance, using just six plays to make it 17-0 on Deon Jackson’s one-yard touchdown catch. The Vikings, seemingly already desperate late in the first quarter, attempted to convert a fourth down from their own 31-yard line and failed. Colts’ kicker Chase McLaughlin converted his second field goal of the day moments later, making it 20-0 Indianapolis early in the second quarter.
Minnesota tried to convert on fourth down on their next drive, from the exact same spot on its own 31-yard line once again, this time with a fake punt – but once again, the Colts’ defense held up. Chase McLaughlin’s third field goal of the afternoon followed, extending Indianapolis’ lead to 23-0 with still 10 minutes before halftime. Minnesota’s unraveling continued with five minutes to go in the half, a Kirk Cousins interception returned for a touchdown by Julian Blackmon to put Indianapolis ahead 30-0. Another Colts’ field goal in the final seconds of the half made it 33-0 at the break.
Minnesota finally began its steep uphill climb with a touchdown reception by K.J. Osborn midway through the third quarter, making it 33-7. After Chase McLaughlin’s fifth field goal of the afternoon extended Indianapolis’ lead to 36-7, a short touchdown run by Vikings’ fullback C.J. Ham made it 36-14 with a minute to play in the third quarter.
Minnesota truly began to make the game interesting early in the fourth quarter. Kirk Cousins found Justin Jefferson for an eight-yard touchdown to make it 36-21, and Minnesota still had more than 12 minutes to make up the two-score deficit.
Another Kirk Cousins’ interception killed the Vikings’ next drive, but they’d get the ball back just four plays later after forcing a punt deep in Colts’ territory. Kirk Cousins quickly redeemed the interception with a one-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, pulling Minnesota within one score at 36-28.
The Vikings appeared to have scored a potentially game-tying touchdown after a Colts’ fumble was returned by Chandon Sullivan for a touchdown, but a horrendous early whistle had blown the play dead before the fumble. Still, the Vikings were awarded the football after review – but when Ifeade Odenigbo sacked Kirk Cousins on fourth down, the Colts took back the football with 2:52 to go.
After the Vikings picked up a huge fourth down stop to get the football back, Dalvin Cook provided the Minneapolis crowd with a play it won’t soon forget. Cook took a short pass from Kirk Cousins and ran 64 yards through the Indianapolis defense, rumbling through contact into the end zone as the crowd shook the building. After a successful two-point conversion, the Vikings had miraculously tied the game at 36 where it would remain until the end of regulation.
Minnesota won the toss to start overtime, but ended up punting after their possession stalled. The Colts drove the football to near midfield on the following possession, but would punt as well. Suddenly, a tie was in play with less than two minutes to go in overtime.
Instead, several big completions led Minnesota into field goal range – and after a delay of game was called on the Colts’ defense for trying to keep the Vikings from having any time, Greg Joseph drilled a 40-yard game winner. The 39-36 victory for the Vikings completed the 33-point comeback, the largest in NFL history. Minnesota also clinched the NFC North title with the win, becoming the second team in the league to win their division officially after the 49ers did so Thursday night.
Next Week: Indianapolis: vs. L.A. Chargers, Minnesota: vs. N.Y. Giants
Browns 13, Ravens 3
The Baltimore Ravens traveled to Cleveland for their second of two matchups with the Browns this season, seeking a season sweep to hold their position atop the AFC North. Quarterback Tyler Huntley made his second straight start for Baltimore in place of injured starter Lamar Jackson, while Deshaun Watson made his first start at home for the Cleveland Browns.
Huntley and the Ravens moved the ball downfield successfully on their opening drive, arriving at the Browns eight yard line looking likely to score before turning the ball over on downs. The game’s first points would not actually come until early in the second quarter, when Cade York’s 47-yard field goal put Cleveland ahead 3-0. Justin Tucker would drill a 53-yarder for the Ravens later in the quarter, tying the game at three with 5:31 to go before halftime. The successful kick was Tucker’s 355th, setting a new record for field goals made in Baltimore Ravens history.
The Browns put together an 11-play, 71-yard drive on the following possession as both offenses continued to shake the cobwebs, but the end zones remained off limits. Cleveland would stall out inside the Ravens five yard line and settle for another field goal, putting the Browns ahead 6-3 with 1:52 to go in the half. The Ravens’ set themselves up to tie the game with a 49-yard field goal attempt by Justin Tucker at the halftime buzzer, but a rare miss by the future Hall of Fame kicker left the score 6-3 at the break.
Baltimore’s offense created another opportunity early in the third quarter, driving deep into Browns’ territory – but an interception by Denzel Ward at the 15-yard line ended the threat. Baltimore, wondering what could have been, was suddenly put on its heels by Cleveland’s offense on the ensuing drive as well. Deshaun Watson led the Browns 91 yards downfield over 12 plays, and found Donovan Peoples-Jones for a touchdown to extend the lead to 13-3 with 2:10 to go in the third quarter.
The snow flurries intensified as the game moved into the fourth quarter, and the kickers continued to struggle. Browns’ kicker Cade York missed two field goals on back-to-back possessions, but Cleveland held a two-possession lead with 4:24 to go anyway.
The Ravens’ frustrating evening continued on their next drive when wide receiver Demarcus Robinson fumbled the football back to Cleveland before Baltimore could get much of anything going. When Justin Tucker’s next field goal attempt for Baltimore was blocked early in the fourth quarter, Saturday’s game began to feel like one to forget for the Ravens.
Cleveland would run the clock out without issue, taking home a win that keeps them technically alive in the AFC playoff hunt and delivers a huge blow to Baltimore’s hopes of winning the AFC North.
Next Week: Baltimore: vs. Atlanta, Cleveland: vs. New Orleans
Bills 32, Dolphins 29
After Friday and most of Saturday saw the Orchard Park, New York region pounded by snow that filled Highmark Stadium, the weather and the field were both clear by the time the Buffalo Bills’ heavyweight bout with the Miami Dolphins began. Few gave the Miami Dolphins much of a chance in the unforgivingly cold environment, but the Dolphins looked ready to compete early on.
After a pair of punts to begin the night, Raheem Mostert became a catalyst for Miami both catching passes and breaking free on impressive runs in the first quarter. The Dolphins added a field goal on their second drive to get on the scoreboard first, 3-0.
The Bills would not stay quiet for long, hitting big pass plays to Dawson Knox and Devin Singletary en route to rookie tight end Quintin Morris’ first career touchdown. The 14-yard reception put the Bills ahead 7-3, sending the Buffalo crowd into a frenzy of throwing snow into the air and prompting the in-stadium jumbotrons to plead that they stop doing so. Snowballs continued to pelt the end zone at random as the first half went along, creating white dots all over the blue turf.
After a second Miami field goal pulled the Dolphins within a point, Buffalo continued to apply pressure. Josh Allen’s second touchdown pass of the night found Nyheim Hines, a 10-yard strike that sent even more snow to the sky while putting the Bills ahead, 14-6 in the second quarter.
The problem of thrown snow became especially problematic on the Dolphins’ sideline, where players in white were being pelted repeatedly. With 8:18 to go in the second quarter, the development prompted officials to stop the game entirely as the crowd was threatened with a potentially 15-yard penalty against Buffalo. When play resumed, the Miami Dolphins put together an impressive drive. Tua Tagovailoa repeatedly found Tyreek Hill as Miami moved downfield, but it was Salvon Ahmed’s 11-yard touchdown run that pulled the Dolphins back within a point.
Buffalo moved into Dolphins’ territory again as the first half would down to its final moments, setting up one final play with eight seconds to go from the Dolphins four yard line. Instead of kicking a field goal to extend their lead at the break, the Bills ran an offensive play. Josh Allen rolled out to his right as the clock expired and found running back James Cook in the end zone for a touchdown, rewarding Buffalo’s risk with a 21-13 halftime lead.
After a punt by the Bills to open the second half, Miami’s elite speed came into play in a huge way. Tua Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle deep down the middle of the field, and the speedy wide receiver left the entire defense in the dust for a 67-yard score that trimmed the deficit to 21-19. The Dolphins struck one more time before the third quarter ended as well, this time taking a 26-21 lead as Tyreek Hill found the end zone on a 20-yard reception.
Miami’s defense made a huge play to give the Dolphins a chance to extend their lead early in the fourth quarter, a strip-sack by Jaelan Phillips to give Miami possession in Bills’ territory. It would settle for a field goal from there, extending the lead to 29-21 with 12 minutes to play.
The Buffalo snow finally began to fall again in earnest in the fourth quarter, adding a new element to the proceedings. The Bills responded well to the lake-effect weather, engineering a punishing drive down the field that ended with Josh Allen’s five-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox. The two-point conversion was overturned after initially being ruled no good, and the Buffalo crowd lost its collective mind as the Bills tied the game in an ever-intensifying snowstorm.
As the two-minute warning came and went, the Bills were once again in the midst of a drive into Miami territory hoping for a comeback win. Bills’ running back Devin Singletary broke free for what looked like a touchdown run with 35 seconds left, but gave himself up at the Dolphins three-yard line in order to use more clock. Josh Allen took a knee on the next play, setting up a potential game-winning kick from a cleared portion of the turf for Tyler Bass. Bass drilled it, and the Bills clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth with a hard-fought 32-29 win over Miami.
Next Week: Miami: vs. Green Bay, Buffalo: at Chicago