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Vikings have been historically good in close games

The Vikings are 9-0 in games decided by eight points or less, an NFL record for the most consecutive wins in one-score games to start a season.

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson catches a touchdown in the the fourth quarter against the New York Jets on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 27-22.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. -- When Kevin O’Connell was the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator last season, they won their final three playoff games by three points apiece, including a victory in Super Bowl LV over Cincinnati. It seems he has brought some of that late-game magic to Minnesota.

In O’Connell’s first year as head coach, the Minnesota Vikings are 9-0 in games decided by eight points or less. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s an NFL record for the most consecutive wins in one-score games to start a season.

The Vikings’ latest exercise in survival was Sunday’s 27-22 win over the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium. Safety Camryn Bynum clinched the victory with an interception at the Minnesota 1-yard line with 10 seconds remaining to raise the Vikings’ record to 10-2, the second-best in the NFL.

Kevin-OConnell-Headshot.jpg
Kevin O’Connell

“I just don’t think it’s an accident that our team continues finding ways to win and doing enough to win,” O’Connell said Monday. “We’re setting ourselves up to do those things to win those games in the end. … Our guys are confident that we’re going to win those games because they’ve done it and they’ve proven it.”

Winning close games, O’Connell said, comes down to such details as understanding the situation, clock management and playing “smart, aggressive football.” Of course, perhaps a little luck has helped as well.

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On Sunday, with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the game and the Vikings up 27-22, Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone from Mike White.

Before that, there was the “double-doink” on Oct. 2, when New Orleans’ Wil Lutz’s last-second, 61-yard field-goal attempt clanged off the upright and the crossbar. A make would have forced overtime. Instead, the Vikings won 28-25. And then there was that fumbled snap by Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen in the end zone in the waning seconds of regulation on Nov. 13. Eric Kendricks fell on it for a touchdown and Minnesota went on to win 33-30 in overtime.

No apologies

The Vikings aren’t apologizing for anything heading into Sunday’s game at Detroit.

“That’s hard to do,” Kendricks said of the nine straight one-score wins. “This is my eighth year in the league. I don’t take that for granted by any means. I know how hard it is to win. So, I’m excited that we are. … At the end of the day, we stay calm and we just don’t break.”

That wasn’t exactly the case when the Vikings went 8-9 last season. They tied an NFL record by playing in 14 one-score games, going 6-8. When the margin was four points or less, they were just 2-5 under head coach Mike Zimmer, fired after the season..

“It’s an amazing stat, just piggybacking off what happened last year with us,” edge rusher D.J. Wonnum said of the 9-0 mark. “We pride ourselves in being situational masters. We have a meeting on it and we go out and practice and execute those different things in two-minute drills and different things like that.”

Under O’Connell, Minnesota has “situational master” meetings every week, something he got from Rams coach Sean McVay. The Vikings go over all sorts of game situations. That includes a film review of out-of-the-ordinary things to have happened in previous NFL games.

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In many of Minnesota’s dramatic wins, the Vikings have made key defensive plays at the end to save games. Before Berrios’ drop on Sunday, the Jets had first-and-goal from the 4 but White threw three straight incompletions. When the Jets got one last offensive possession, they earned a first-and-10 at the Minnesota 19 before White threw three incompletions and was picked off by Bynum.

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“We’ve built a really tough team, a veteran, good-leadership team,” defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said. “We’ve brought the young guys along so well that we just have confidence in one another to get the game when it’s on the line.”

Phillips said it’s become “almost expected” that Vikings games will come down to the end. And he joked that might affect ticket prices in 2023.

“They’re exciting games, for sure, and the season-ticket prices for next year’s season must be going through the roof,” he said.

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