Turning point: Walsh, late heroics turn tide

Blair Walsh (Andy King/Getty)

The Vikings looked like they would find another way to lose after gaining a lead. Instead, their rookie kicker, Blair Walsh nailed a 55-yard field goal to send the game to overtime and a 38-yarder to win it.

At the start of last year's disastrous season, the Vikings often found themselves with a lead going into the second half only to find a way to squander leads – even double-digit leads. It seemed like history was repeating itself until the Vikings pulled off one of the most dramatic wins since the Brett Favre-to-Greg Lewis touchdown against San Francisco with their 26-23 overtime win over Jacksonville Sunday.

Not only was kicker Blair Walsh making his NFL debut, he was asked to kick the second-longest field goal in franchise history (55 yards) to send the game into overtime, but he had another kick in overtime to give the Vikings the win.

"No pressure at all, right?"" Walsh said with a chuckle. "To hit that field goal to put us into the next stage of the game with a chance to win it was awesome."

It didn't look like that would be the case. In fact, a few thousand of the announced crowd of nearly 56,607 wasn't there to see it. When Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with just 20 seconds to play, it gave Jacksonville a 23-20 lead and looked to be a blueprint of the struggles the Vikings had closing out games last year. But, as defensive end Brian Robison said, that was then and this is now.

"There's always time," Robison said. "You learn to expect the unexpected in this league. The odds were stacked against us, but we had the guys on offense that could make plays and they did it."

One of the most vocal sideline cheerleaders was wide receiver Michael Jenkins. He rallied the offense in the huddle and on the sidelines that there was still time. It may have been the Dumb and Dumber style of, "So you're telling me there's a chance," but he laid it out to his teammates that the offense still had a chance to pull the game out of the fire.

"I told the guys on the sidelines that we had three timeouts left and anything could happen," Jenkins said. "All we needed was a couple of big plays and we could back in it. The odds weren't great, but as we went out on the field, I told them there was a chance and to keep our heads up. We could do this."

Starting from his own 31-yard line, Christian Ponder completed a 26-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu that put the Vikings on the Jacksonville 44-yard line. Realizing how little time was remaining, Aromashodu knew what he had to do.

"When I caught the ball, my first thought was get a few extra yards and get down as quickly as I could," Aromashodu said. "We had our timeouts and were able to stop the clock with seven seconds left, which was enough to run a quick-hitting play."

That play was a 6-yard sideline pass to Kyle Rudolph that turned what would have been a 61-yard field goal into a 55-yard attempt. During pregame warmups, Walsh was hitting kicks from beyond that distance.

"Right about that range – 57 or 58 (yards), right in there," Walsh said. "I felt comfortable about it. They asked me where my range was and I said about that (55 yards or so)."

Walsh banged the 55-yarder with room to spare, improbably sending the game to overtime and keeping hope alive. Once there, the Vikings marched the ball down the field behind runs of 10 and 20 yards by Peterson to set up a 38-yard field goal by Walsh. Under the new overtime rules, the Jaguars got the ball back, but when the Vikings got three incompletions out of Gabbert in the first four downs, the game was over and the Vikings escaped with a wild turning point and, more importantly, their first season-opening win since 2009.

It was a game of high drama and high emotion with the return of Adrian Peterson and Walsh making his stamp in his debut. Offensive tackle and fellow rookie Matt Kalil was asked if the Vikings had something special planned for Walsh, but said, at a minimum, he should get a game ball for his late-game heroics.

"I don't know what we're going to do, but it's going to be something," Kalil said. "Those were a couple of great kicks and he really bailed us out."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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