The stage was set. The Minnesota Vikings would travel to Highmark Stadium to take on the Bills in Buffalo. This marked the first time that Stefon Diggs would face his former team, the Vikings. Tension was high and the stakes were large.
This was not a normal cross-conference matchup. In March of 2020, the Buffalo Bills searched desperately to find a wide receiver to aid their quarterback, rising-star Josh Allen. The Bills struck a deal with the Vikings, sending a 2020 first-round pick (No. 22 overall), a 2020 fifth-round pick, a 2020 sixth-round pick along with a 2021 fourth-round pick in exchange for Diggs and a 2020 seventh-round pick. The trade is deemed by many one of the fairest in recent history.
Diggs burst out onto the scene in Buffalo, making a huge leap in production from 2019 to 2020. In 2020 Diggs posted 127 receptions for 1535 receiving yards, both career-high and league-leading marks. He also tacked on eight touchdowns, helping him earn first-team All-Pro honors. This year, Diggs is on pace for over 130 receptions, 1800 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
On the other hand, Viking’s Justin Jefferson has arguably had one of the best starts to a career in NFL history. In his rookie season, Jefferson tallied 1400 receiving yards, third on the all time list for rookie WRs. Additionally, Jefferson has averaged 97.0 receiving yards per game in his first three seasons, the highest of any player in NFL history. This season, Jefferson is on pace to accumulate over 2,000 receiving yards. No player in NFL history has ever passed this mark.
As the game grew near, there was uncertainty in the air. Allen dealt with a UCL injury in practice during the week, an injury that many thought would create long term concerns for the QB, especially if he suited up against the Vikings. Contrary to these expectations, Allen took the field.
The two teams wasted no time. On just the second drive of the game, the Vikings jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after a 46-yard catch, and a 22-yard touchdown catch by Jefferson. The Bills responded with two touchdowns of their own in the next eight minutes, both scored by running back Devin Singletary. After both teams exchanged turnovers late in the second half, the Bills executed the two-minute drill to perfection, capitalizing on a five-play, 71-yard drive with a touchdown pass thrown to receiver Gabriel Davis. As the two teams headed into the locker rooms, the Bills held a strong 24-10 lead. According to ESPN Analytics, the Bills had a 89.1% probability of winning at this moment.
After three scoreless drives to open up the second half, the Bills were the first to score with a long field goal from kicker Tyler Bass. This thrusted the Bills into a 17 point lead, their largest of the game (96.8% win probability).
The Vikings responded immediately. On their next play from Scrimmage, Dalvin Cook broke loose for an 81-yard touchdown run. After a great block from Jefferson, all Cook needed to do was make one defender miss. He did just that. After an interception by Allen, the Vikings strung together a long 13-play drive, which concluded with a powerful touchdown run from fullback C.J. Ham. However, kicker Greg Joseph’s extra point doinked off the right upright, keeping the Vikings deficit at four with four minutes left to play. This meant that the Vikings would have to stop the Bills, and then score a touchdown (instead of being able to tie it with a field goal).
After the Vikings stopped Allen and the Bills, they got the ball back with one last chance to win the game. However, after a sack on third and long by Bills pass rusher Von Miller, the Vikings chances looked bleak. On fourth and long, the Vikings elected to go for it. “Kirk Cousins back to throw on 4th and 18. He is given time. He wants Jefferson … he climbs the ladder, oh my goodness! Justin Jefferson pulled it in. The catch of his life! There’s no way!” said announcer Paul Allen.Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw the ball into a sea of Buffalo defenders, and simply trusted Jefferson to come down with the ball. With an impressive leap to make the one-handed grab, Jefferson put the Vikings on the Bills 41-yard line. After another long catch by Jefferson, the Vikings found themselves inside the five-yard line with just about one minute remaining. On third down, Jefferson dashed across the field, hauled in a pass, and dove for the goal line. The play was deemed a touchdown, but was later overturned by a booth review. On fourth down, Cousins dropped back, surveyed, and found an open Dalvin Cook in the flat. Had he caught it, Cook could have walked into the end zone to give the Vikings the lead. However, Cook attempted to run before securing the ball, and the pass dropped to the floor. All hope seemed lost for the Vikings, until a penalty awarded the Vikings another chance. Cousins attempted to sneak the ball through the defensive line, into the end zone, himself, but he fell just short.
With under a minute left, the Bills controlled possession of the football and the lead. Bills players, coaches, and fans assumed the game was over. With the Bills first play, Allen attempted a QB sneak to try to give the Bills ample breathing room, as they took over just outside of their own end zone. Mid-play, chaos erupted. Allen lost control of the football. Vikings players were pointing towards the end zone, signaling they had possession of the ball. White and yellow sleeves were flailing in the air. The Vikings had recovered Allen’s fumble, resulting in a touchdown. At this moment, the Vikings owned a 93.9% win probability.
Allen and the Bills had other plans. With just 40 seconds remaining, Allen strung together five passes. This left just enough time for Bass to sneak in a 29-yard field goal before time expired. The teams were headed to overtime.
The Vikings came out of the coin toss victorious, meaning that they could win the game with a touchdown. Jefferson led the Vikings down to the two yard line, but the team was not able to finish it off. They settled for a field goal, giving them the lead. The Bills could now win the game with a touchdown or match the Vikings with a field goal, but if they failed to get points on the board, the game was over.
After two near-twenty yard scampers by Allen and two completions to Diggs, the Bills found themselves at the Minnesota 20-yard line. If they could avoid a turnover, the Bills were in a great spot. They had the opportunity to take the lead with a touchdown or tie the game with a field goal. Spoiler alert: they couldn’t. Allen’s pass, intended for Davis in the end zone, was intercepted by Vikings star cornerback Patrick Peterson, his second interception of the game. This was Allen’s third, and most costly, turnover of the game.
Coming into this game, the Vikings were widely perceived as frauds. They held a 7-1 record, but many believed this was a fluke. Including the Bills game, the Vikings have won seven straight games, all by 8 points or fewer. This ties the longest such streak in NFL history. This victory over the Bills, who many believe to be the best team in the NFL, proves the Vikings legitimacy as a top-tier team across the league.
Although the Bills knew Cousins would try to pepper Jefferson with targets all day, they could not stop him. At such a young age, Jefferson is arguably the best receiver in the game. He has an extremely bright future ahead.
This win thrusts the Vikings to an 8-1 record, placing them in a tie for first place in the NFC. As for the Bills, they fall to 6-3. They now sit behind both the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets in the AFC East.
Minnesota will look to continue their winning ways when Dak Prescott and the Cowboys travel to U.S. Bank Stadium to face the Vikings.