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In a season filled with last-minute losses, the Vikings are suddenly giant-killers and having a big impact on how the NFL playoffs shake out.

When the Vikings were 3-8 and facing a schedule that would include Atlanta, Green Bay New Orleans and Miami -- all teams expected and likely to make the playoffs -- there was speculation that if the team won a fourth game of the season, it would be in Week 17 vs. Detroit.

What a difference a month can make. The Vikings thought they had a win vs. Atlanta, only to have a gadget play at the end of the game nullified by a formation snafu. The next week at Lambeau Field the Vikings led almost the entire game until, by the NFL's own admission, the referees gave the Packers a victory. At New Orleans, the Vikings eshewed conventional wisdom and became the first team since the institution of the two-point conversion to successfully scored on a two-pointer in the final two minutes trailing by one. Saturday, the Vikings again found the magic formula, as Gary Anderson knuckled a 53-yard field goal in the final seconds for a 20-17 win.

All season long, the Vikings have frustrated fans with turnovers, penalties and stupid mistakes. Saturday was no exception. In the first half, the Vikings crossed midfield on all five of their drives, got to the 30-yard line three times and got in the red zone twice. Yet, they came away with just three points.

But, unlike stretches earlier in the season, the Vikings have found ways to win -- unconventional at best. Gary Anderson, who wasn't even with the team when the season started, kicked his longest field goal in five years. However, if kicker Hayden Epstein hadn't been injured earlier in the fourth quarter, Anderson likely never would have had the chance to attempt the long field goal.

With their last two wins, the Vikings have all but eliminated the chance for New Orleans to win the NFC South -- if the Saints would finish tied with Tampa Bay, New Orleans would win the division thanks to two wins in the regular season head to head. Had Miami won, they would have been in the playoffs and New England would have to beat them in the regular-season finale to keep Miami from winning the AFC East. Now a loss at New England could keep Miami out of the playoffs completely.

Four weeks ago, Vikings fans dreaded that their team would be 3-12 at this point. They're 5-10 and a solid case can be made by players and coaches that they should be 7-8 and heading to Detroit trying to finish with a .500 record.

* The Vikings snapped a five-game streak in which Miami RB Ricky Williams ran for 100 or more yards. He finished with 67 yards on 15 carries. In the first quarter, he had seven carries for 43 yards. In the final three quarters, he had eight carries for 24 yards.
* With the exception of the two desperation passes in the final seconds Sunday, both teams scored on every possession of the second half. The Vikings had the ball just three times, while Miami had it just twice.
* Tice admitted he was swayed by screaming fans with two minutes to go not to punt and take a chance on a fourth-and-2 play near midfield. When asked about the scenario, Tice told VU that players and coaches were urging him to go for a first down, adding, "Why not? It's been a long year for the fans. They deserved it. It was the last home game, so why the heck not?"
* Randy Moss hit the 100-reception plateau for the first time in his career. He also doubled his career TD pass total with a 13-yard TD to D'Wayne Bates.
* Bates looked more like Cris Carter than Carter did Saturday. He caught seven passes for 79 yards and a TD, including five receptions in the second half.
* The Vikings piled up 368 total yards -- almost 100 more than the 272-yard average Miami has allowed this year. Meanwhile, the Dolphins gained just 239 yards -- the second-lowest total allowed by the Vikings this year.
* Early word on Epstein isn't good. He was taken off the field on a cart following a tackle on a kickoff return and will have an MRI today. Team medical personnel said that, considering what Epstein told them about the moment of impact, it looks like he may have ligament damage to his knee.
* Get out your asterisks. The Vikings set a new team rushing record Saturday, adding 129 yards to give the team 2,353 yards. It breaks the old record of 2,279 set in 1965, but the NFL had 14-game seasons back then, so the record can be seen as asterisk-worthy.
* Jim Marshall's consecutive games played streak survived what could well be its last challenge. Kansas City kicker Morten Andersen has said he would like to kick until he's 50, which, if so, would have shattered Marshall's record of 282 straight games. Instead, a knee injury sidelined Andersen, who was placed on injured reserve this past week -- ending his streak at 248 games.

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