MINNEAPOLIS — What a difference a half makes.
The Minnesota Vikings played one of their worst halves of football this season Sunday, Nov. 17. The offense punted the ball five times and fumbled it away to the Denver Broncos twice en route to a 20-0 halftime deficit.
But whatever head coach Mike Zimmer told his team in the locker room worked. Minnesota scored touchdowns on its first four drives after the break, and the defense locked down quarterback Brandon Allen and the Denver offense to finish off an improbable 27-23 win at U.S. Bank Stadium.
All three phases of the game were a struggle for the Vikings in the first half. Dalvin Cook was bottled up for 8 yards, and a Kirk Cousins fumble set up a Denver field goal to push the lead to 20. Allen was able to connect with well-covered receivers, and Courtland Sutton was able to hit fellow receiver Tim Patrick for a big gain on a trick play. On special teams, Mike Hughes had his first of two muffed punts, and Ameer Abudullah fumbled away a kick return.
But then the teams reversed roles, with Minnesota coming up with big plays and tough stops while the Broncos couldn't come up with enough plays to stem the comeback.
"We hit a few explosives in the first half, a bunch of deep balls that really opened up the rest of our offense," Allen said. "Second half, early on... we didn't do a good enough job sustaining drives. That put our defense in a bad spot."
After a first half of mostly checking down the ball to his backs and tight ends, Kirk Cousins found success with a more aggressive approach. Touchdown strikes to Irv Smith Jr., Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph were part of his 261 second-half yards. He completed 29 of 35 attempts for 319 yards.
"I like when things are bad and (adverse) because you see what kind of guys you got," Diggs said. "When it rains, it storms, and it definitely stormed today. But we brought our umbrella."
Cook ended up with only 26 yards rushing — with a long of 5 yards — but his fourth quarter touchdown run after a Brandon McManus field goal helped keep the momentum shifted in Minnesota's favor.
"Every drive after halftime was big," Cook said. "(The first score) was like getting the first first down. You've got to get the first touchdown and then after that, you are rolling."
Denver drove down the field late in the fourth quarter, advancing to the Minnesota 4 yard line. But strong coverage by a Minnesota secondary that was leaky early in the game denied Denver's own attempted comeback, including passes broken up by Trae Waynes and Jayron Kearse.
"It was real big," Kearse said. "The coaches were telling me it was playoff football. We needed to come out and make a play. The offense did their job, coming out and giving us the lead, so it was time to close it out.
"We did just that."