Vikings find themselves one game out of final playoff spot in NFC

Just like that, the playoffs are within reach for the Vikings.

Sunday’s 28-27 comeback victory over Carolina at U.S. Bank Stadium moved the Vikings’ record to 5-6 and left them one game out of the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC.

After losing 20-17 at New England, Arizona (6-5) holds down the No. 7 spot. The Vikings have the same record as Chicago and San Francisco but they’re No. 8 since they currently hold tiebreakers over both.

“We’ve still got a lot of football left to play, still got a lot of good teams,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, whose team has won four of five after a 1-5 start. “We’ve just got to worry about ourselves and how we approach each week.”

The Vikings do not play the Cardinals this season but are in good position to win a possible tiebreaker over them. Minnesota can’t lose a tiebreaker to them on conference record and the tiebreaker after that is common foes. Arizona is 2-3 against Carolina, Dallas, Detroit and Seattle while the Vikings are 2-2 with a game at Detroit in the Jan. 3 finale.

The Vikings are a 9 1/2-point favorite next Sunday against Jacksonville (1-10) at home while Arizona is a 1 1/2-point underdog at home against the Los Angeles Rams (7-4). But the Cardinals’ schedule then gets more favorable and Minnesota has difficult road games in December at Tampa Bay (7-5) and New Orleans (9-2).

The Vikings currently hold a tiebreaker over Chicago due to their 19-13 road win on Nov. 16, but the teams will play again Dec. 20 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings don’t play San Francisco this season but currently have a better conference record.

JOHNSON STEPS UP

With Vikings star receiver Adam Thielen on the COVID-19 reserve list and missing his first game of the season, Bisi Johnson stepped up in his absence.

Johnson caught seven passes for a team-high 74 yards, which was more receptions than the six he had all season entering the game. Johnson started the first two games before being replaced by rookie Justin Jefferson, who had seven catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.

“Olabisi Johnson stepped up and was exactly who he was last year when we needed him, and (he) had a great game in Adam’s absence,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said of Johnson, who had 31 catches last year as a rookie.

Also helping make up for Thielen’s absence was Chad Beebe, who had seven catches for 63 yards, including the winning 10-yard reception with 46 seconds left in the game.

Tajae Sharpe played for the first time since Week 2. He still has no catches this season but on Sunday was targeted for a second time.

The Vikings also were without tight end Irv Smith due to a groin injury.  With Smith out, three tight ends had catches:  Kyle Rudolph, seven receptions for 68 yards; Brandon Dillon one for six and Tyler Conklin one for five. It was the first NFL catch for Dillon, a second-year player who was elevated from the practice squad to play in his third game.

COOK HURTS ANKLE

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook injured an ankle early in the third quarter after he lost a fumble that was returned 28 yards for a touchdown by Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn. After being helped off the field by two trainers, Cook returned late in the third quarter and played the rest of the game.

“He wanted to go back in the ballgame,” Zimmer said. “It’s a credit to him. He wants to be out there with his teammates. He was able to get going a little bit. It was a hard day to run the football.”

Cook finished with 18 carries for 61 yards, including five for 21 yards after his injury. He entered the game trailing Tennessee’s Derrick Henry by 10 yards for the NFL rushing lead but now trails Henry, who had 178 yards Sunday, 1,257 to 1,130.

Cook also had four catches for 21 yards Sunday.

LONG SNAPPER SOLID

For the second straight game, long snapper Andrew DePaola performed well. He had clean snaps on three extra points and two field goals made by Dan Bailey and on three punts by Britton Colquitt.

DePaola was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 21. He was elevated for the past two games while long snapper Austin Cutting has been inactive. DePaola is out of elevations for the season, so Cutting could be waived this week. Cutting, a second-year player who was the long snapper for 27 straight regular-season and playoff games before DePaola arrived, could be a candidate to be re-signed to the practice squad.

In addition to Smith and Cutting, inactive for the Vikings were guard Ezra Cleveland (ankle), defensive end Jordan Brailford (personal reasons), wide receiver K.J. Osborn, cornerback Dylan Mabin and safety Curtis Riley.

Brett Jones started in place of Cleveland at right guard for the second straight game. Osborn was replaced as the punt returner by Beebe and on kickoff returns by Ameer Abdullah.

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