With a final touchdown, Broncos end Vikings’ streak of wins and secure a 21-20 triumph
DENVER — The Vikings’ defense repeatedly held the Broncos to field goals near the end zone on Sunday night. Despite committing three turnovers and facing their archrival Russell Wilson, the Vikings seemed poised to secure a win with their red-zone defense.
However, the Vikings have experienced Wilson’s late-game heroics too often in the past 11 seasons. In his ninth game against the Vikings, Wilson delivered another heartbreaking loss with a clutch touchdown pass in the final minutes.
The Broncos scored their only touchdown of the game with three minutes left, as Wilson found Courtland Sutton in the back of the end zone for a 21-20 comeback win over Minnesota. The loss snapped the Vikings’ five-game winning streak and improved Wilson’s record against them to 8-1. Wilson threw for 259 yards on 27-of-35 passing.
“We’ve learned this lesson before: Playing good football teams, you can’t give them three extra opportunities,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “We’ll have to continue to stress the importance of ball security, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Broncos did not turn the ball over, while the Vikings gave the ball away three times. The Broncos capitalized on three fourth-quarter drives, reminiscent of how the Seahawks beat the Vikings in 2020: with Wilson throwing a late touchdown pass to a receiver wearing No. 14 while beating a young cornerback.
Joshua Dobbs passed for 221 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-32 passing, but he was hit as he threw an interception in the second half. The Vikings ran for a season-high 175 yards, but Dobbs’ interception came one series after an Alexander Mattison fumble.
The Vikings had avoided turnovers on their opening drive for three games, after doing so four times in five games in September and October. That streak ended on Sunday night, with a baffling fifth opening-drive turnover.
On a third-and-1 from their own 34, the Vikings ran a trick play where tight end T.J. Hockenson took the snap from center Garrett Bradbury and pitched to Dobbs. But Dobbs lost the ball as he reached for the first down, and Baron Browning recovered it after Kareem Jackson hit Dobbs in the head.
O’Connell said Dobbs was evaluated for a concussion after the play. Dobbs said a spotter called for the test, adding he felt fine after the hit.
Jackson was not penalized for hitting Dobbs in the helmet. O’Connell added afterward, “The way [Jackson] did it, it seemed like a pretty direct helmet-to-helmet hit. But I’m sure they saw it differently.”
The Broncos took over on the Vikings’ 30, and settled for a Wil Lutz field goal to start the game.
The Vikings took the lead at the end of the first quarter with a drive that featured seven runs, totaling a season-high 72 yards in the quarter. Dobbs capped the drive with a brilliant touchdown pass.
He escaped Jonathan Cooper’s sack attempt by rolling right and shaking off his right shoulder. Then Dobbs set his feet, hitched twice and tossed the ball to a wide-open Josh Oliver before two Broncos defenders hit him. The touchdown, followed by a powerful Oliver spike, put the Vikings up 7-3.
The Vikings led 10-9 at halftime after limiting the Broncos to two field goals in the red zone. They began the third quarter with a defensive stop and a 19-yard punt return by Brandon Powell. A Dobbs pass to Jordan Addison and a 19-yard penalty on Patrick Surtain II nullified the cornerback’s interception and set up an eight-yard touchdown run by Dobbs on a third-down gap in the Broncos’ man coverage.
The Vikings increased their lead to 17-9 and had an opportunity to seal the game on their next drive, which reached the Broncos’ territory thanks to a 29-yard completion from Dobbs to Oliver out of a three tight-end formation. However, Mattison, who combined with Ty Chandler for the Vikings’ best rushing performance of the season, fumbled the ball at the Broncos’ 34 after a handoff from Dobbs.
The Vikings’ defense held the Broncos to another field goal, with D.J. Wonnum sacking Wilson on third down as Flores disguised a seven-man blitz by dropping four players into coverage. “It was a big play,” O’Connell said. “I thought Alex ran the ball really well tonight; so did Ty. You saw a nice balance of those guys out there. There’s no question about it — it was a critical play, but not one that we couldn’t overcome.”
The Vikings’ next drive started with a first-and-20 situation after an offensive pass interference call on K.J. Osborn. The Broncos pressured Dobbs with five rushers, and Josey Jewell hit his arm as he threw, resulting in an interception by Ja’Quan McMillian.
“They had some blitzes in the red zone, when we got behind the sticks, to kind of handcuff us,” Dobbs said. “It’s seeing those looks when you’re making the protection call. I’ve got to be better in that situation, because teams are going to continue to do that until I show the capacity to pick up that pressure.”
The Vikings settled for a field goal on their following drive, which only extended their lead to five points and gave their old nemesis one more shot.
Wilson found Sutton on fourth down for a vital 13-yard gain, and then completed three passes to Samaje Perine to reach the Minnesota 22. Facing a six-man rush, he threw a pass to the back of the end zone for Sutton, who fended off rookie Mekhi Blackmon’s late attempt to swat it.
“It looked like we were in position. He’s a pretty darn good player — a big target,” O’Connell said. “When we let them get down there in the scoring range, all it takes is one pitch and catch, and they take the lead, so that’s what happened.”
The Vikings had 1:03 and three timeouts to drive for a game-winning field goal, but they could not move the ball beyond their own 36. Dobbs was penalized for intentional grounding on third down, and threw an incomplete pass for K.J. Osborn on fourth down.
Wilson knelt down to end the game, and the rain that had stayed away all night poured over Empower Field at Mile High, creating a scene that reminded the Vikings of all the heartbreaks Wilson had inflicted on them in Seattle.
Ben Goessling is the Vikings reporter for the Star Tribune. He has been covering the team since 2012, and has also reported on the Twins, Wild, Washington Nationals and high school sports.