Vikings overcome 2 fumble return TD wipeouts in comeback

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s completion of the biggest comeback in NFL history hit plenty of speed bumps.

Cornerback Chandon Sullivan had not one, but two, fumble returns for touchdowns foiled by the whistle in the 39-36 overtime victory over Indianapolis on Saturday.

The first one came in the second quarter, with the Vikings already trailing 23-0. Sullivan and Brian Asamoah converged on Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman after a short pass on third-and-10, and Sullivan stripped the ball out of Pittman’s arms before scooping it up and sprinting forward for what would have been a 40-yard score.

The play was blown dead. Referee Tra Blake told a pool reporter afterward that Pittman’s forward progress was stopped, a ruling that’s not reviewable. Only the position of the ball in that case can be changed by replay, not possession.

The Vikings got the ball back on a punt, but they were pinned back at their own 5. Kirk Cousins threw a third-and-3 pass that was off target — Justin Jefferson had just left for injury treatment and intended receiver Jalen Reagor didn’t appear to be on the same page with Cousins about the width of the curl route — and intercepted for a 17-yard touchdown return by Julian Blackmon.

Then with 3:23 left in regulation, Sullivan scooped up a fumble by Deon Jackson and returned it for what would’ve been a 39-yard touchdown. That play was blown dead because the original ruling on the field was that Jackson was down by contact before the ball was forced out during the tackle by Za’Darius Smith. The expedited review on replay proved a clear recovery, and the Vikings were awarded possession by the reversal. But by the rule, they could only get the ball at the spot and not get credit for the advance.

Sullivan was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after ripping his helmet off in anger and tossing it on the field.

“That second one, that was so hard to come back from, to get everybody to get on the same page and just not worry about it and just go back and work,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “It was clear that it was out. It was clear that we scored, and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t go that way. … Luckily we didn’t lose ourselves, and we got back to work.”

Reagor also had a 51-yard punt return called back by a facemask penalty on Kris Boyd in the fourth quarter. Replays showed Boyd appeared to miss making contact with the facemask on his man.

“I feel like the officials made a couple tough calls, respectfully, on both sides,” Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “I don’t know. It was a tough game. A lot of times I feel like a penalty will go one way, and then you’ll kind of get it back.”

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