MINNEAPOLIS — For a half of football, the Broncos dominated the Vikings en route to a 20-0 halftime lead.
It wasn’t enough.
The Vikings stormed back in the second half, scoring touchdowns on each of their first four second-half drives to take a 27-23 lead with 6:01 to play in the fourth quarter.
“Any time you’ve got a 20-point lead, you’ve got to win the game,” defensive end Shelby Harris said. “That’s on the defense. That’s on us. There’s no other excuses about it. We’re not a team that makes excuses. We’ve got to go out there and finish. They came back after [the] half shooting, and we just couldn’t match it. They beat us. I’m not in the business of making excuses. I’m in the business of getting it right. This sucks. This stings. It should never have been up to a last-second play to win the game. When you’ve got a 20-point lead, you’re supposed to be cruising through the fourth quarter and making stops. We didn’t do that.”
The Broncos converted a trio of fourth downs on their last-gasp drive to give themselves a chance, but they weren’t able to get into the end zone to retake the lead. Denver’s chances ended when three consecutive Brandon Allen pass attempts from the 4-yard line into the end zone fell incomplete.
Allen said Courtland Sutton, who finished with five catches for 113 yards and also drew a defensive pass interference call, was double-covered in the end zone at the end of the game.
“I thought other guys separated,” Allen said. “I was just trying to give us a chance to get the ball in the end zone, and it didn’t work out.”
After the Broncos held Kirk Cousins and the Vikings scoreless in the opening half, Cousins threw three touchdowns in the second half and finished 29-of-35 for 319 yards and the three scores.
“We just couldn’t make a play to get off the field there in the second half,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said, “and their passing game was way better than our passing defense.”
The Broncos hadn’t lost a lead as large as their 20-point advantage since they squandered a 24-point lead in New England in 2013, and Denver had never before suffered a defeat in regulation after holding a halftime lead of at least 20 points.
In the first half, Denver’s defense and offense were both dominant. The Broncos held Dalvin Cook, who led the league in rushing entering Week 11, to just 9 yards on four carries. Denver also prevented Cousins from throwing a touchdown pass, and they sacked Cousins three times in the opening two quarters. Entering the game, the Vikings had allowed 17 sacks all season, the sixth-lowest total in the league.
During the first half, the Vikings were just 1-of-6 on third down, did not reach the red zone and tallied just 47 total yards.
Denver’s offense, meanwhile, scored more points than it has in a half this season, as the unit put up 20 unanswered points to start the game. The unit was led by Courtland Sutton, who posted 96 total yards in the first half.
The Broncos had a chance to add to the lead right before halftime after Will Parks forced a fumble on a Vikings kickoff. Allen looked for Fant on the first play after the turnover from Minnesota’s 17-yard line, but he threw an interception and the Broncos walked away with no points. Instead of taking a 27-0 lead into halftime, the Broncos led just 20-0.
“[Allen had] a bad throw into coverage and they picked it,” Fangio said. “It’s one of those where you’re almost in hindsight, maybe we should’ve just ran three times and got our three points and been happy. You would’ve roasted me if I did that. But in hindsight, maybe that would’ve been a good thing.”
Then, after the break, everything changed for Denver.
The offense scored just three points, the defense allowed 27 points and the impressive play ended.
“We came up short, and nobody hates losing more than Von,” Von Miller said. “All y’all know that, but I’m not depressed. I’m not down. I love the guys that I went out there with. We played a hell of a game, we just came up short at the end. I’m looking forward to reloading and coming back next week.”
The Broncos now sit at 3-7 as they prepare for a Week 12 game in Buffalo.
“You just go onto the next one,” Harris said. “The thing about this league is the losses hurt, but after the wins too, it’s onto the next game. You can’t dwell on these losses too long. This one obviously is going to hurt, but we’ve got the Bills [next]. We’ve got to go to Buffalo, and they’re a winning team. So it’s another chance to prove ourself. That’s how you’ve got to get over it. If you stay on this one too long, you’ll go out there and get your butt kicked against the Bills.”