Non-scoring series ‘drive of the year?’

The Vikings didn’t get any points during a late fourth-quarter drive, but it helped ensure the win in the season finale.

It’s not easy to look at a drive that didn’t result in points as being a difference-maker for the Vikings, but a 13-play drive in the fourth quarter while nursing a four-point lead was one of the most exceptional drives the Vikings offense put together all season, eating six minutes off the game clock, forcing the Chicago Bears to burn all three of their timeouts and had their defense on their heels.

For players like Jerome Felton, who was the lead dog for Adrian Peterson the last time the Vikings made the playoffs, it felt reminiscent of that season – when Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and the Vikings’ offensive line imposed its will against opposing defenses.

“That drive reminded me of 2012,” Felton said. “That was how we would close out games when we needed it – knowing you could get physical and push them around a little bit. Obviously, we wish we could have finished it off with a touchdown, but it was fun out there. It was the drive of the year for me personally.”

After the defense had stopped Chicago in the red zone and forced them to settle for a field goal to cut the Vikings’ lead to 13-9, the offense was asked to protect the lead – something they have struggled mightily with the last two years.

Faced with a third-and-12 from his own 30-yard line, it looked as if those struggles might continue for the Vikings and Teddy Bridgewater. But Greg Jennings made a spectacular one-handed catch and gained 19 yards to move the chains before the game got turned over to the running game. Matt Asiata got three straight carries, rushing the ball for 7 and 2 yards before breaking off a 16-yard run on third down that kept the clock moving and forced the Bears to start calling timeouts.

After a 4-yard run by Asiata and a 2-yard run by Joe Banyard got the Vikings into a third-and-4 situation, Bridgewater scrambled for 8 yards and kept the clock rolling. While the Vikings were unable to punch the ball first a first down on two carries from the 3-yard line, they had taken exactly six minutes off the clock and left Chicago pinned on its own 3-yard line with 2:53 to play and no timeouts.

“It’s been about getting more consistent on offense and I think we’ve been able to do that a lot more down the stretch,” offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. “We’ve been taking advantage of situations, taking time off the clock and taking pressure off of the defense. Obviously we want to score, but they gave us an unscouted look and we were a little messed up assignment-wise. But I thought we did a great job to get all the way down the field, make them use their timeouts and leave the defense with a short clock. The guys did an awesome job and we got the win. That’s the most important thing.”

For his part, Asiata wanted to get his number called. Of the 13 plays on the marathon drive, nine of them were Asiata runs. He was proud with the confidence the coaching staff showed in him and, for the most part, the results they were able to get.

“We were just looking to get first downs and keep the clock moving,” Asiata said. “There was a lot of time left when we got the ball, so our first goal was to extend the drive and keep the time moving. The line did a great job. That drive was big for us. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the game away with a touchdown, but it was hard-nosed football and a really good drive for us.”

In the modern-day NFL, where throwing the ball has taken on a much higher priority, the ability to run the ball and kill the clock is something that has been the bread and butter of the Vikings during the Peterson era. For guys like guard Joe Berger, those are the drives that help make teams consistent winners.

“We’re a team that has been built around the running game and sustaining drives,” Berger said. “That’s the way you close out games when you have the lead. It would have been a lot better had we finished it off with a touchdown – that part of it was missing – but we did what we set out to do and the was huge for us.”

As the Vikings head into the offseason, they do so knowing that they have an improved defense and a much more optimistic look on offense with the maturation of Bridgewater. They may have a much different look to them in 2015, but the component pieces are in place and the foundation blocks were laid out Sunday, especially in the closing six-minute drive.

“It was a point of emphasis to finish off this season strong and head into the offseason with some momentum,” Kalil said. “It means a lot to get that momentum and have confidence that we can win these kinds of games. We’ve had a lot of close games – Buffalo, Green Bay, Detroit, Miami. We’re not too far off. There are little things in the NFL that make the difference between winning teams and losing teams and I think we showed today that we can get the job done on both sides of the ball to win those tight games.”

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