A backup QB and a miracle: 2017 squad earns Vikings team of the decade
VIKINGS TEAM OF THE DECADE:2017
This was a pretty easy pick. The 2017 team went 13-3 in the regular season and advanced to the NFC Championship game after the Minneapolis Miracle win over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round. The other Vikings playoff teams in the decade were the 2012, 2015 and 2019 squads, but none of those teams had the quite same level of success.
Minnesota entered the 2017 season with Sam Bradford as their starting quarterback, who arrived to the Vikings just before the 2016 season after Teddy Bridgewater broke his leg in training camp. In the 2017 season opener against the Saints, Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 29-19 victory. He earned the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance.
Unfortunately for Bradford, that win would be the highlight of his season. Bradford suffered a knee injury during the opener that sidelined him for most of the rest of the year and eventually led to him being placed on injured reserve after a knee scope in November.
Enter Case Keenum. The journeyman signal caller’s first start came in a 26-9 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in week two, and while Keenum had a pedestrian outing it was not a sign of things to come. Keenum went on to have his best season as a pro, throwing for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 98.3 passer rating – a career high. Keenum also contributed on the ground with 160 rushing yards and a score.
After rookie running back Dalvin Cook got injured early in the season, Latavius Murray stepped in as the lead back with 842 yards and eight touchdowns. While Murray was more of a traditional NFL running back, Jerick McKinnon was an all-around threat for the Vikings with 570 rushing yards and three touchdowns and 421 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Adam Thielen led the team in receiving with 1,276 yards while Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph each snagged eight touchdowns.
Minnesota unequivocally had the NFL’s best defense in 2017, finishing first in points allowed per game (15.8) and yards allowed (275.9). Everson Griffen was the team’s top defensive lineman with 13 sacks, Eric Kendricks controlled the middle of the field with a team-high 113 tackles and Harrison Smith led the Vikings with five interceptions and 12 passes defensed. As a whole, the Minnesota defense had five Pro Bowlers: Griffen, Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph.
The 2017 Vikings had seven Pro Bowlers including Thielen and Rudolph on offense. Of those seven, Rhodes and Smith were selected as first team All-Pros and Griffen and Thielen made it on the second team.
HOW IT ENDED
After going 13-3 in the regular season and winning the NFC North, Minnesota entered the playoffs with a bye as the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
The Vikings played New Orleans in the divisional round and went up 17-0 at half thanks to rushing touchdowns from McKinnon and Murray. That lead was not long lived, however, as Drew Brees tossed three touchdown passes in the second half that eventually put the Saints up 21-20 with 3:01 to play.
Minnesota struck back with a 53-yard field goal from Kai Forbath with 1:29 to play, but left too much time on the clock for Brees and Co. to drive down the field and score on a 43-yard Wil Lutz field goal.
Down 24-23 with just 25 seconds remaining, things looked desperate for the Vikings. The only way they could win was if there was a miracle, or in this case a Minneapolis Miracle.
For once, the crazy playoff ending actually benefitted the Vikings for a change. What a concept!
Of course, the euphoria lasted for just one week, since we all know what happened in Philadelphia the next weekend in the NFC Championship Game.