MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Zimmer said the Minnesota Vikings got a little lucky.
When big-legged Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye lined up for a field-goal attempt with 6 seconds to go and the Vikings clinging to a one-point lead, the 54-yard try probably felt like a chip shot to Minnesota fans.
Zimmer watched Slye boot 'em from 60 yards and longer in pregame warmups on Sunday, Nov. 29, so Zimmer's confidence was about as high as it ever was in the Blair Walsh Era.
Slye's leg is so strong, he was using his kickoff attempts in Sunday's game — six of which went for easy touchbacks — to practice different types of kicks. He popped one up that looked like a routine flyball to the left fielder. Touchback. He rocketed one on a low line drive that even Miguel Sano could've turned into extra bases. Touchback.
So with the game riding on Slye's foot, with no wind, no fans and no noise, the conclusion seemed foregone.
But Zimmer and Vikings fans forgot one thing: Slye kicks for the Vikings of the South.
Carolina doesn't have as lengthy a history as the Vikings do, but it's nearly as painful.
The Panthers have lost two NFC Championship Games. They've also lost the only two Super Bowl appearances in franchise history, getting blown out by Denver in one and leaving Tom Brady 68 seconds to drive for a winning field goal in the other.
So when Slye's kick sailed wide left with 1 second remaining on the clock, securing a 28-27 Minnesota victory, the feeling was a familiar one to fans on both sides. Another painful loss for the Panthers, effectively ending any sliver of hope they had of making the playoffs. On the opposite side, the Vikings and their fans took a split second to empathize. But no more than a split second.
When Zimmer says the Vikings got a little lucky, maybe we agree with him. Or maybe we don't.
If that’s the case, then Tennessee got a little lucky on Sept. 27 at U.S. Bank Stadium when Stephen Gostkowski was 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts, including three of more than 50 yards, and the Vikings blew a two-touchdown lead with four minutes to play in the third quarter in a 31-30 Titans win. (Aside from the Vikings game, Gostkowski is 9-for-17 this season.)
If that’s the case, then the Seahawks got a little lucky on Oct. 11 at Seattle, when the Vikings offensive line and Alexander Mattison couldn’t get a half a yard on fourth-and-inches with 2 minutes remaining, that would’ve sealed a Minnesota victory. Instead, Russell Wilson marched the Seahawks 94 yards in 102 seconds for the game-winning TD.
If that’s the case, then Dallas got a little lucky a week ago, when Minnesota had a four-point lead with 2:05 to go and couldn't stop the Cowboys on a fourth-and-6 play that would've all but wrapped up a Vikings win. Dallas scored the game-winning touchdown five plays later.
So, yes, maybe the Vikings were a little lucky on Sunday. But that's what the NFL is about, and no one needs to or will apologize for a victory, however it comes about. Success for every team is largely defined by how many one-score games they can win.
There were dozens of singular moments that defined Sunday's game. Slye's kick just happened to be the last big, hold-your-breath downhill drop during an emotional roller coaster of an afternoon.
Some of the most head-scratching of those moments came in the final three minutes.
The Vikings' defense — which held Carolina's offense to 13 points — stopped the Panthers at midfield with 2:10 to go, but Chad Beebe dropped the punt at his own 10 and the Panthers recovered. A touchdown would've sealed a victory for Carolina, but the Vikings of the South managed to burn just 19 seconds off the clock before Slye kicked a 21-yard field goal for a 27-21 lead with 1:51 left.
Then, again much to the surprise of Vikings fans, Kirk Cousins led Minnesota on a 75-yard touchdown drive, with no timeouts, in just 65 seconds. The drive was capped with a 10-yard TD pass to none other than Beebe.
"At the end of the day, a lot of that (drama) was on me," said Beebe, whose receiving TD was the first of his NFL career. "I came to the sideline (after the fumble) and everyone was positive, they had a never-give-up attitude. Our entire team felt that way. We had plenty of time to go down and score, and that's exactly what we did."
Former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who played most of the first half like he wanted the Vikings to win Sunday's game, needed just three plays to drive the Panthers into field-goal range, only for Slye's long kick to fly wide.
Had it split the uprights, the luck would have been on the Panthers' side. But it didn't. And the Vikings weren't apologizing for it.
"I thought Kirk played well all day," Zimmer said of Cousins, who was 34-for-45 passing for 307 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed passes to seven different receivers and became just the fourth QB in NFL history to complete seven or more passes to four different receivers in a game. "On that last drive, he was terrific.
"That's kind of how this year has gone. It seems every one of these games comes down to a chance to win it at the end."
Jason Feldman covers the Vikings for Forum News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.