Vikings make rare 20-point comeback after half

MINNEAPOLIS -- Stefon Diggs jumped up and down on the Vikings' sideline, screaming in elation as "Enter Sandman" blared out of the speakers inside U.S. Bank Stadium with just over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Moments before, Diggs had caught a 54-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins on a route the quarterback noted is hit "once a decade" to breathe life into a Vikings team that was on the verge of losing to the Denver Broncos in befuddling fashion after entering Week 11 as a double-digit favorite over its last-place AFC West opponent.

The Vikings found the spark they needed through their star wideout, who notched five receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown in the second half to lead Minnesota to a 27-23 win over Denver.

"It would have been pretty bad if we lost," Diggs said. "Going into a bye week, and you just didn't win. For us, coming out victorious gives us not necessarily a sigh of relief but proof that we can do things to come back from behind and win the game. There are good things that we can take from this game moving forward."

No team has blown a 20-point halftime lead since the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Chargers in Week 16 of the 2014 season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, teams leading by 20 or more points at halftime are 400-13 (95-1 since the start of 2015). Collectively, NFL teams had won 97 straight games when leading by 20 or more points at halftime.

Prior to Sunday's come-from-behind win, the Viking were 0-8 under coach Mike Zimmer when trailing by 20 points at any point in the game.

"It doesn't just happen like that," Cousins said. "You have to have character, and as one person texted me, that doesn't happen to basic people. You got to have something to you to be able to bring that back. So I'm proud of my teammates and our coaches for the way they found a plan to get it done."

This was the second-largest comeback of Cousins' career and his first win with the Vikings after trailing in the fourth quarter (he was previously 0-10-1).

His previous biggest comeback came in Week 7 of the 2015 season, when he led the Washington Redskins to a victory after being down 24 points and famously screamed "You like that?!" following the game.

Despite completing 11 of 12 passes in the first two quarters, Cousins totaled 58 yards, and the Vikings trailed the Broncos 20-0 at halftime. The key to Minnesota's getting on track was an up-tempo approach reliant on Cousins and the offense going into two-minute mode.

"I've played a lot of football, and I go back to college," Cousins said. "Whenever we were stalling, Mark Dantonio would say, 'Hey, jump into two minute.' Many times you jump into two minute, it has a different feel to it, and next thing you know, you're going. You hesitate to do it because you also know they have Von Miller and a really good pass rush, and you don't want to just get in a dropback game with some of the best pass-rushers to ever play. It worked today. I don't know if that's because you run play after play after play without huddling and they start to get a little winded, and now they don't have the same get-off as they do in the first half when they're huddling every play. I'm not sure.

"I also have to just credit Coach Fangio and their defense for what they did in the first half. To stay in our base offense clearly wasn't working. So I wonder, if it had been a closer game, if you still want to jump in at two minute just because they were defending us so well in the first half to what we were doing. We just weren't running the football, and they were taking away a lot in the pass game."

Cousins threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. According to Elias, the Vikings are the only team in the past 40 seasons to score a touchdown on every second-half possession and win after trailing by 20 points at the half.

Denver attempted a 43-yard field goal once it got the ball back following Diggs' touchdown, but Brandon McManus' attempt sailed wide right and gave the Vikings possession at their 33-yard line. Cousins found Kyle Rudolph streaking wide open downfield five plays later and hit the ninth-year tight end for a 32-yard touchdown, giving the Vikings their first lead of the game and the game-deciding score.

Minnesota's defense came through in the final moments after Denver quarterback Brandon Allen converted on two fourth-and-6 situations with less than 3:27 to play. The Broncos lost one of their timeouts after coach Vic Fangio challenged a play and defensive pass interference was upheld.

Allen completed just 43.9% of his passes Sunday but ran for a critical first down in the game's final moments. With a fresh set of downs and 10 seconds to play, the Vikings' red zone defense held off Denver's last attempt at a comeback.

"We gave up a couple plays to let them get down there, but typically, we're pretty darn good in the red zone," Zimmer said. "We went with the same defense all three plays, and guys did a nice job. Part of it is understanding how to play, where to play, body position."

On the final play of the game, Vikings safety Jayron Kearse broke up Allen's pass intended for Noah Fant in the corner of the end zone. It was Kearse's second game-deciding play in as many weeks, having picked off Dak Prescott's Hail Mary attempt in the final moments of Minnesota's win in Dallas on Sunday.

"He's a good football player," Kearse said of Fant. "We watched him on film last week, but he had a couple big plays. It was all about just being physical with him. I am a big body, he is a big body, and so you aren't going to bully me. When the ball goes up, it's my job to make sure you don't come down with it."