When the NFL finalized its Week 15, Saturday tripleheader lineup back on Dec. 5, who could have guessed the league would showcase the greatest comeback in its 103-season history in addition to two compelling intra-divisional battles?
But the schedule makers came through again with a (mostly) entertaining day of football, which produced a pair of playoff-clinching performances and more than compensated for the lack of big-time college games on the calendar.
The Minnesota Vikings’ resurrection from a 33-0 halftime deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime marked the biggest come-from-behind victory in the NFL – ever. Requiring nearly a full 70 minutes of game time, it also gave the Vikes their first NFC North crown since 2017. And before the clock struck midnight on the East Coast, the Buffalo Bills dispatched the Miami Dolphins 32-29 to complete the day’s second comeback.
Who else won and lost on a memorable NFL Saturday? Read on …
Bills QB Josh Allen (17) virtually willed his team into the playoffs Saturday night.
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Vikings’ resilience: Saturday’s triumph was obviously an all-timer. The Bills’ 41-38 wild-card escape from the Houston Oilers (led by backup quarterback and former Colts coach Frank Reich, who dug the team out of a 35-3 hole) in the 1992 playoffs is the only other time any team has survived a deficit of at least 30 points. But Minnesota has gotten the job done, sans style points, by just enough nearly all season. The Vikes now own an NFL-best 10-0 record this year in games decided by one possession and haven’t won a game by multiple scores since Week 1.
PLAYOFF PICTURE:Vikings’ comeback clinches NFC North; Bills get berth
USA TODAY SPORTS’ WEEK 15 NFL PICKS:Can Bucs, Tom Brady get healthy against Joe Burrow’s Bengals?
GREGG DOYEL:Colts continue to unravel with biggest choke in NFL history vs. Vikings
Josh Allen: The Bills’ superstar turned in an MVP-caliber showing, passing for 304 yards and four TDs, rushing for 77 additional yards and producing a game-tying two-point conversion. That all occurred before Allen drove Buffalo on a game-ending, 86-yard drive – it culminated with Tyler Bass’ game-winning field goal from 25 yards – that also ensured Miami wouldn’t get a final possession of its own.
Ohio: Not only were the folks of the Buckeye State treated to the Cleveland Browns’ 13-3 defeat of the Baltimore Ravens, the result also vaulted the Cincinnati Bengals into sole possession of first place in the AFC North – though the reigning conference champions will have to beat Tom Brady and the Bucs in Tampa on Sunday to remain there.
K.J. Osborn: Minnesota’s No. 3 receiver had a career day, cracking the century mark in receiving yards for the first time in his three-year career. Osborn’s 10-catch, 157-yard, one-TD outing made the NFL’s leading receiver, Justin Jefferson (12-123-1), look almost pedestrian by comparison.
Mother Nature: She made a late appearance in Cleveland, dusting the Browns and Ravens with fourth-quarter snow flurries. Then Mama Winter hustled up Lake Erie to belatedly produce those famed “lake effect” conditions, turning Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium into a snow globe.
Deshaun Watson: Understandably, legions of NFL fans hate seeing his name in the “winners” column. Nevertheless, Watson’s third game with the Browns – and first start at FirstEnergy Stadium as Cleveland’s quarterback – was his best since the 11-game suspension tied to a litany of off-field allegations levied against him ended. He was hardly spectacular (18-for-28 passing, 161 yards and a TD to go along with 22 rush yards), yet effectively efficient as the Browns (6-8) won for the second time in Watson’s three starts and remained on the far periphery of the AFC playoff picture.
Raheem Mostert: He rushed for 136 of the Dolphins’ 188 yards, their second-highest total of the season, while also handling kickoffs. Big time.
Kurt Warner’s jacket: A year after the Hall of Famer’s silvery puffer coat became a social media sensation, ironically while he was calling a late-season game in Cleveland, he broke it out again Saturday while in NFL Network’s analyst chair for the chilly Ravens-Browns tilt.
Ravens-Browns national audience: Since the Colts and Vikings essentially played a full overtime period, the only people who saw the first quarter of the day’s second game – it kicked off at 4:30 p.m. ET – were those in the Baltimore and Cleveland television markets.
Ravens-Browns local audience: The fine people of Charm City and The Land were, uh, treated to a scoreless first quarter while the rest of America was rapt by the Vikes’ resurrection and/or Colts’ collapse.
Saturday on Saturday: Indianapolis’ interim head coach, Jeff Saturday, may see his name etched into NFL annals on a non-interim basis after his team squandered its 33-0 advantage after two quarters.
Matt Ryan: The Colts quarterback was already inextricably attached to the most infamous Super Bowl meltdown of all time, an unfortunate capstone to his 2016 MVP campaign with the Atlanta Falcons. Now this. And Ryan had a bigger hand in Indianapolis’ self-destruction, overseeing an offense that scored just one touchdown, failed to convert on 13 third downs and was unable to get the single yard himself on fourth-and-1 with 2:31 to go – when another foot probably puts the game into the win column for Indy.