The Denver Broncos offense was stuck in the mud all night long, failing to move the football on third down (2-for-12) and in the red zone (1-for-5), but when they needed their first and only touchdown the most, quarterback Russell Wilson came through with a 15-yard TD to receiver Courtland Sutton with 1:03 to go for a 21-20 victory. Sutton’s receiving touchdown streak was extended to five games, tying him for the third-longest such streak in team history. They ended up winning the turnover battle three to nothing, but had to settle for five field goals over the course of night until the final game-winning drive. Their defense halted the Vikings in their tracks on fourth-and-25 from their own 21 with 23 seconds left, forcing a Joshua Dobbs incompletion over the middle to seal the victory.
Wilson’s 38 game-winning drives and 30 fourth-quarter comebacks are both tied for the most in the league since 2012, the span of Wilson’s career, with Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.
With the victory, Denver now has reeled off four wins in a row to get back into the AFC playoff race. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since 2016, the first season following their Super Bowl 50 victory. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense has made an unfathomable turnaround in 2023, allowing 17 points per game since Week 7 during their winning streak, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the fewest in the league. That’s as stark a contrast as it gets from Weeks 1-6 when they allowed an NFL-worst 33.3 points per game, including 70 in Week 3 road loss at the Miami Dolphins. Their 68 points allowed since Week 7 is two points fewer than those 70 points they surrendered in Week 3.
The Vikings literally gave this game away. They lost the turnover battle 3-0 and played a conservative zone defense for much of the night.
Dobbs, by finishing with 221 passing yards, one passing touchdown, one interception and a fumble lost on 20-for-32 passing while rushing for 21 yards and touchdown — on a 10-yard scramble — on eight carries, became the first player in NFL history with a passing and rushing scores in each of his first three games with a team in NFL history. It’s the second time this season accomplishing this feat as he did so in Weeks 1-3 with the Arizona Cardinals, his first three games with them as well.
Dobbs briefly exited the game and had to be checked out in the medical tent after being clobbered and losing a fumble on the opening drive, but he came back in and dominated the rest of the half, completing 11 of 13 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown to tight end Josh Oliver, which came on a scramble deep in the low red zone in which he shook off a defender, rose back up to throw and cleanly hit Oliver for the score.
After a 10-yard scrambling touchdown on on third-and-8 from the Broncos 10 in their first possession of the second half, Minnesota was out their largest lead of the night, eight points (17-9).
Another Vikings lost fumble, this time by running back Alexander Mattison, on first-and-10 from the Denver 34 last in the third quarter prevented Minnesota from pulling ahead by two possessions. Nine plays later, the Broncos had to settle for another field goal, this time from 37 yards, after quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked for a three-yard loss on the Vikings 19 on third-and-five by Minnesota linebacker D.J. Wonnum. That drive trimmed the Minnesota lead to five, 17-12 with 12:44 left in the game. Wilson finished with 259 passing yards and a touchdown on an efficient 27-of-35 passing.
The Vikings committed a third turnover on their next possession with Dobbs tossing an interception, but once again the Broncos couldn’t capitalize despite starting the possession with first-and-goal at the nine. Denver wide receiver Jerry Jeudy found himself open in the middle of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 10, but he dropped Wilson’s pass that hit him right in the hands. That led to Lutz’s fifth made field goal of the game, putting the host Broncos within two, 17-15, with 10:40 left in the game.
Having committed turnovers (an interception and a lost fumble) on their two drives following Dobbs’ rushing score, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell pulled a trick play out his bag. Minnesota snapping the football to the upback, running back Ty Chandler, on their own 31 on fourth-and-four, and he picked up 31 yards for a massive first down. Chandler also came up with perhaps the key play of the game, taking a third-and-20 checkdown pass from Dobbs to the Broncos 26 with just under seven minutes left to play. Dobbs converted the quarterback sneak on a sneak play. Their 14-play drive concluded with a 30-yard kick from Greg Joseph to put them up five, 20-15, forcing the Broncos to do what they hadn’t been able to do all game in order to win, score a touchdown. They did it and earned the victory.
Why the Broncos won
Wilson made the key plays Denver needed all night long on the final drive, and head coach Sean Payton taking the points with five field goals ended up being the smart move as each one was critical in their one-point victory. The Broncos turnaround to 5-5 is one of the most miraculous storylines of the 2023 season.
Why the Vikings lost
It’s incredibly difficult to win when turning the ball over three times and not forcing any. Those gaffes forced their defense to be perfect, and they nearly were. Close enough wasn’t simply didn’t cut it for Minnesota on Sunday night.
Turning point/play of the game
There is only one play this could be: Wilson’s 15-yard scoring strike to Sutton. The offensive was anemic for about 59 minutes, but this play with just over one minute to play erased all of their woes.
The 6-5 Vikings take on the 3-8 Bears at home in Week 12 on “Monday Night Football.” The 5-5 Broncos play host to the 7-3 Browns, who won 13-10 with fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback against the Steelers in Week 11.