MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — His left knee fully healed, Adrian Peterson ran hard for Minnesota. Rookie Blair Walsh’s leg handled the rest.
Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation expired and another in overtime, and Peterson returned from his left knee injury to lift the Vikings to a 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Peterson ran 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings, who led for most of the second half until Blaine Gabbert’s 39-yard touchdown pass and 2-point conversion with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Jaguars a 23-20 lead.
For the first time since the NFL’s new overtime scoring rule was installed last season, the first team to score didn’t immediately run off the field a winner. The replacement officials were right on top of that and most of the rest of the action, avoiding any game-changing contested calls or blatant mistakes.
After Walsh’s 38-yard kick, the Vikings had to play defense again so the Jaguars had their turn to match. But Gabbert was hurried into a fourth-down overthrow, spoiling the debut for new Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey, who played for the Vikings in the 1980s and was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator the past four seasons.
For two teams that combined for eight wins last season, this game had a little bit of everything, including the improbable lead change in the waning seconds.
Cornerback Chris Cook’s sack helped force a punt by the Jaguars at the 2-minute warning, but the Vikings went three-and-out and punted the ball right back clinging to a 20-15 lead.
With no timeouts, 91 seconds left and starting at his 24-yard line, Gabbert put together perhaps the best drive of his brief career. He completed a fourth-down pass to rookie Justin Blackmon and then found Cecil Shorts III open in man-to-man coverage against Cook near the sideline.
Shorts, who played at Division III Mount Union College in Ohio and had only two receptions last season, pivoted to make a twisting catch just inside the pylon with 20 seconds left, sending a stunned silence over the stadium.
But the Vikings still had two timeouts, and with two quick passes by Christian Ponder they hustled in position for Walsh to kick the tying field goal with room to spare as the fourth quarter ended.
They won the coin toss and, with 27 yards on three carries by Peterson to become the franchise’s career leading rusher, set up Walsh for his go-ahead kick. Drafted in the sixth round out of Georgia, Walsh replaced veteran Ryan Longwell this year.
Ponder finished 20 for 27 for 270 yards, though he lost a fumble while taking a sack in the third quarter that led to one of Josh Scobee’s three field goals.
Peterson, who was supposed to be on limited use a little more than eight months out from reconstructive surgery to fix torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, had 17 of Minnesota’s 29 runs.
Gabbert went 23 for 39 for 260 yards and two scores, but he dropped a snap in the third quarter that was recovered at the Jacksonville 44 by Kevin Williams to set up Peterson’s second touchdown run. His Superman-like leap over the line from 2 yards gave the Vikings a 14-9 lead. He then somersaulted up from his back to celebrate with his teammates, yet another sign of his recovery from such a devastating injury last Christmas Eve.
Peterson’s first carry was unremarkable in style, a simple 4-yard gain after a stutter step at the line of scrimmage, but the crowd realized the significance and applauded Peterson almost as loudly as they did when he sprinted out of the tunnel during the pregame introduction.
That’s all the Vikings gave their fans to cheer until the end of the first half, going almost an hour between first downs, but with one 3-yard touchdown run by Peterson they wiped out most of a bad half by moving within 9-7.
Gabbert, whose 65.4 passer rating was the worst among all qualifying quarterbacks in the league last season, looked more comfortable in the pocket to start his sophomore season and didn’t force any throws.
But despite some tough inside running by Maurice Jones-Drew, who skipped training camp in protest over his contract, the Jaguars — who produced fewer total yards than any other NFL team last season — didn’t finish off enough of their drives with touchdowns. Vikings rookie offensive tackle Matt Kalil blocked Scobee’s extra point in the second quarter, too.
Jones-Drew, who like Peterson was purported to be in a limited role, gained 77 yards on 19 carries for the Jaguars.
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