MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings erased a 20-0 halftime deficit with touchdowns on each of their four drives in the second half, fending off the Denver Broncos by forcing three straight incomplete passes in the end zone over the final 10 seconds to preserve a 27-23 victory on Sunday.
This was the first time in five years — a span of 100 games including the playoffs — that an NFL team won after trailing by 20 or more points after two quarters.
Kirk Cousins went 29 for 35 for 319 yards and three scores for the Vikings (8-3), overcoming a system-wide failure in the first half that included a lost fumble of his during a sack that led to one of three field goals by Brandon McManus for the Broncos (3-7).
Cousins hit Stefon Diggs for a 54-yard touchdown pass that brought the crowd noise to a deafening level and cut the lead to 23-20. McManus went wide right from 41 yards on his fourth attempt, and Cousins found Kyle Rudolph wide open for a 32-yard score on the next possession with 6:10 left. Both of those throws by Cousins came off bootleg rollouts to his left, the type of passing play he has long thrived on.
Brandon Allen, the fill-in quarterback after the injury to Joe Flacco and the impending debut of rookie Drew Lock, admirably drove the Broncos to the cusp of a comeback of their own with a drive that included three fourth-down conversions.
With first-and-goal from the 4, but only 10 seconds and no timeouts remaining, Allen had three chances at the winner. Trae Waynes knocked down the first one, Jayron Kearse had a hand on the second one and the last try for Noah Fant sailed past the rookie tight end after he and Kearse tussled for position.
The Broncos have not scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter for six straight games. The last team guilty of such a severe second-half collapse was Atlanta on Oct. 26, 2014, when a 21-0 lead at home turned into a 22-21 victory for Detroit. According to Sportradar, this was only the 14th time in NFL history that a 20-plus-point halftime deficit turned into defeat.
The Vikings hardly could have played more poorly over the first two quarters. They punted on their first four possessions and already trailed 10-0 when they finally got a first down, finishing with just 47 total yards in the first half. With the deficit at 17-0, Cousins hit Diggs for a 34-yard gain that was wiped out by a holding penalty on left tackle Riley Reiff, who had a particularly difficult time against the pass rush.
The Broncos drove 90 yards for their first touchdown, a third-and-goal throw to tight end Troy Fumagalli for his first career score. They spiced up their play calling with repeated success, using a 38-yard reverse pass by Courtland Sutton to fellow wide receiver Tim Patrick. Sutton kept the ball on two more end-around plays during that drive, including a fourth-and-1 run from the 7 to set up their second touchdown.
One break went Minnesota’s way, an ominous end to Denver’s momentum. The kickoff after the field goal that followed the fumble by Cousins was fumbled and lost by Ameer Abdullah at the 17 by Josey Jewell with 60 seconds left. Allen’s pass for Noah Fant on the next play was intercepted by Andrew Sendejo, preventing the Broncos from taking a four-score lead.
Broncos: FB Andy Janovich, who bulled his way into the end zone on a third-and-goal run from the 1 in the second quarter, hurt his elbow while being tackled at the end of a short reception and did not return.
Vikings: SS Harrison Smith hurt his hamstring in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. LB Ben Gedeon suffered a concussion in the first quarter and was done for the day. Four other starters were already inactive: Adam Thielen, RG Josh Kline (concussion), NT Linval Joseph (knee) and FS Anthony Harris (groin).
Broncos: Facing a stretch of four road games in five weeks that began here in Minnesota, the Broncos play at Buffalo next Sunday. They’ve lost their last two road games against the Bills in 2017 and 2011.
Vikings: After the second-latest bye week on the schedule in team history — in 1991, they were off the weekend of Dec. 1 — the Vikings return to action on Dec. 2 at Seattle. This is their second straight year with a Monday night game on the road against the Seahawks in December.