Being able to get critical stops at crucial times of games has always been a harbinger of good things for NFL teams. The Vikings trailed for most of the second half and, when they fell behind by nine points in the fourth quarter, it appeared as though the game was over. But the Vikings' unwillingness to die kept them alive and, in the end, created the turning point of the game.
Trailing 16-10 three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Giants had the ball on the Vikings 8-yard line and appeared to be heading in for what would likely be the game-clinching score. But the Vikings defense made a stop and forced New York to settle for a chip-shot field goal to take a 19-10 lead.
"That was big for us because, while it was still a two-score game, we had it to the point where we needed a touchdown and a field goal, not two touchdowns," linebacker Ben Leber said. "All we were looking to do was give ourselves a chance and we were able to do that."
The Vikings offense responded quickly, as Tarvaris Jackson completed a pair of passes to Bernard Berrian to get the Vikings back into the game. The first was a 12-yard completion to get the Vikings near midfield. The second was a 54-yard bomb for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 19-17 with 9:26 to play.
The Giants weren't going to go quietly and marched back down the field on a 10-play, six-minute drive. But with 3:17 to play, kicker John Carney pushed a 48-yard field goal attempt wide right to keep the Giants' lead at only two points. For Carney, it was his first actual miss of the season. Prior to that kick, he had made 35 of 37 attempts – with both misses having been blocked at the line of scrimmage. Much like the Gary Anderson kick a decade earlier that could have sealed the fate of the Falcons, you got the impression that the miss would be taken advantage of by the Vikings.
"We bend, but we don't break – that has been the motto of our defense all year," Kevin Williams said. "They were able to move the ball up and down, but, when they got into scoring range, we got a couple of stops. They had to settle for a field goal on one of them and, when they missed they second one, it left the window open and we took advantage of it."
Starting from their own 38-yard line, Jackson got the Vikings into scoring range by completing passes of nine yards to Berrian and eight yards to Visanthe Shiancoe for a first down on the Giants 30-yard. Two plays later, Ryan Longwell would kick the game-winning 51-yard field goal, but it didn't come without some drama.
After a Vikings timeout with nine seconds to play, they called a throw to the sideline that would eat enough time to make the kick the last play of the game. When the Giants called another timeout, Longwell was getting a little anxious.
"It seemed like forever before I could get to kick," Longwell said. "The best thing I had going for me was that they only gave them a 30-second timeout. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait two minutes. I just tried to keep my focus. It's different when you go out, stop and have to start over again. When it finally came, we got a perfect snap and hold and the kick went through."
And with it came the NFC North Division title, turning a bunch of professional athletes into kids again.
"Words can't explain it," Williams said. "I'm tired right now, but this is a great feeling. To get in the playoffs on your own terms is great. We didn't give anyone a chance to say, ‘You backed into the playoffs.' We pulled it out and got a big win."
And, thanks to a pair of defensive stops late, they had that opportunity.
Turning point: Late defensive stops
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