MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adrian Peterson picked up the Minnesota Vikings and gave them a ride to the playoffs, where the first stop on this improbable journey is, yes, Green Bay.
Peterson came up 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record, but he still powered the Vikings past the Packers 37-34 Sunday with 199 yards to set up a rematch next weekend in a first-round playoff game.
Peterson sliced through the line for a 27-yard gain in the closing seconds, his career-high 34th carry. That set up Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal as time expired and put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason after consecutive last-place finishes.
The division champion Packers (11-5) dropped to the NFC’s No. 3 seed.
Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson, providing the necessary balance.
Ponder didn’t turn over the ball, either, and went 16 for 28 for 234 yards, including a 65-yard zinger in stride to Jarius Wright midway through the fourth quarter that set up Ponder’s third touchdown toss.
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards, becoming the seventh player in NFL history to reach the 2,000 mark. He had to work for it, pulling out all the cutbacks, stutter-steps and spins he could find in his exceptional skill set. His longest run was only 28 yards against a defense geared to slow him down, and the first contact often came at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Packers cut the lead to 27-24 late in the third quarter on a touchdown reception by James Jones. The on-field ruling was a fumble at the goal line, triggering an automatic review. Because the Packers threw the challenge flag after the replay process began, however, they were only penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, not prevented from benefiting from the overturned call.
That’s what happened to Detroit infamously on Thanksgiving, when a disputed score by Houston was prevented from review.
Vikings executives hollered at the officials’ supervisor in the press box, and mild-mannered coach Leslie Frazier was screaming at referee Mike Carey in search of an explanation.
After posting a 9-23 record over the last two years, the Vikings made so many strides in 2012 that the season was already a success. But no NFL team would ever be satisfied by finishing in defeat against a division rival, and the emotion and energy behind the quest was palpable all afternoon.
The NFC North was sewn up by the Packers two weeks earlier. Even though the bye remained in the balance the top seed didn’t do the Packers any good last season. They went 15-1 and lost their opener at home to the eventual champion Giants, the year after winning three straight games on the road to reach and win the Super Bowl.
Rodgers played without injured leading receiver Randall Cobb, so Greg Jennings was the main guy instead, grabbing eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But the Vikings sacked Rodgers five times, recovering a fumble on one of them. And the defense did just barely enough to keep up with Peterson and end a five-game losing streak to the Packers.
Rodgers has 24 touchdowns, only four interceptions and a 70 percent completion rate over 10 career starts against the Vikings. His poise, arm strength and savvy came through clear against them as much as any other team. Plus, cornerback Antoine Winfield’s aggravated hand injury kept him on the sideline for most of the game, a big loss for the Minnesota secondary.
Just as Ponder capably complemented Peterson to give the Vikings a chance, DuJuan Harris came out of nowhere to provide Rodgers some help for the Packers. Green Bay has been proving lately it’s not as one-sided an offense as previously believed. Harris rushed 14 times for 70 yards.
With the catch-and-run game they orchestrate so well, finding the soft spots in coverage, the Packers zoomed 80 yards in six plays to pull within 20-17 early in the third quarter. Jennings had a 45-yard gain and the 5-yard grab for a score. He was wide open on both.
But Peterson churned closer to Dickerson on the next drive. Second-and-27? He surged off right tackle and bounced outside for 28 yards. To cap that march, he caught a 2-yard toss from Ponder to push the lead back to 10 points. The “MVP” chants from the crowd rang out in earnest after that.
Vikings RB Peterson Finishes 9 Yards Shy Of Record
Adrian Peterson ran right past everyone this season. Past all those running backs before him who couldn’t make it to 2,000 yards in a season. Past every doubter who dared to think he wouldn’t make it back from a devastating knee injury.
Past everyone except Eric Dickerson.
Peterson became the seventh player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, plowing through the Green Bay Packers for a 20-yard gain that put him over the top in the third quarter Sunday. He finished with 199 yards and a touchdown in the 37-34 victory, leaving him nine yards shy of breaking Dickerson’s single-season record.
“Ultimately we got the ‘W,'” Peterson said after carrying the ball a career-high 34 times. “We said during the week, if it happens, it happens. Don’t focus on it.”
Peterson needed 208 yards when the day began to break Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. His 26-yard run late in the fourth quarter set up Blair Walsh’s winning field goal, a kick that clinched a playoff berth for the Vikings. He’ll have to settle for the second-best total — 2,097 yards — and a trip to Lambeau Field for a playoff rematch next Saturday night.
“I know Eric Dickerson is feeling so good right now,” Peterson said with a chuckle, referencing public comments from Dickerson a few weeks back saying he hoped Peterson didn’t break his record. “But God willing, I’ll get it next year.”
Even without the record, his remarkable comeback season now has a magic number to punctuate it.
Peterson came in 102 yards shy of joining O.J. Simpson, Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson in the 2,000-yard club. Peterson is the only one to do it after reconstructive knee surgery, and he did it on the one-year anniversary of his knee surgery.
“He is without question the best running back in our game and truly, in my mind, the MVP of our league,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We don’t win this game without Adrian Peterson.”
The Vikings punted a few plays after Peterson’s big run, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation when the achievement was announced. Peterson took it all in stride, waving politely, but otherwise not making anything special out of it in a game the Vikings needed to win to make the playoffs. He simply didn’t have time to reflect on the long, arduous path it took for him to get there after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
It was only last December when Peterson crumpled to the turf in Washington, two ligaments torn, leaving many to wonder if his career would ever be the same.
Well, it hasn’t been.
Peterson vowed from the very beginning to return better than ever from an injury that has ended the careers of so many before him. There weren’t many believers, including in his own locker room.
But a combination of uncommon genetics, unshakable determination and a smart rehabilitation plan from Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman had Peterson back in the starting lineup on opening day.
Peterson scored two touchdowns in the opener, but didn’t top 100 yards in a game until Week 4 when he went for 102 against the Lions. As the season went on, the scar tissue in his knee started to break up and Peterson took off like a purple rocket.
His cuts are sharper, his vision better and his patience is making the difference between a 4-yard plunge through the line and a 40-yard dash down the sideline.
He went on a breathtaking eight-game run, amassing 1,313 yards and topping 200 yards twice in four games to vault into the MVP discussion and make 2,000 yards a possibility.
When asked this week to describe his running style in one word, Peterson replied: “Vicious.”
That certainly sums it up.
He got off to a fast start with 61 yards and a touchdown on the first two drives, hearing chants of “MVP! MVP!” just before he surged into the end zone for a 7-yard score and a 10-0 Vikings lead. He also had runs of 12 and 21 yards early to get the Vikings going in this win-and-they’re-in game.
“I don’t let awards identify me,” Peterson said. “I don’t do it. I go out and define myself by what I do on the field. Whether I win it or not, and I’m not saying I don’t want to, just like I wanted to break the record, either way, in my heart I’m the MVP. That’s all that matters.”
The Vikings have followed Peterson’s lead in what most observers expected to be a rebuilding year. Peterson has carried the offense on his broad shoulders, turning the Vikings into a throwback attack that relies almost exclusively on the run for its big plays.
“Congrats to (Adrian) Peterson on becoming the 7th member of the 2K club,” Johnson tweeted, “now let’s see who can run down ED.”
With second-year quarterback Christian Ponder going through some highs and lows, and the Vikings missing top receiver Percy Harvin with an ankle injury, the passing offense has ranked last in the league. Peterson is averaging more yards per rush than Ponder does per pass and his seven rushes of 50 yards tied him with Sanders in 1997 for the NFL record.
All the while, Peterson has said he’d take the first postseason berth in three years over 2,000 yards any day. But it was no secret that the individual achievement was important to him.
Unlike baseball, the NFL has few numbers that immediately grab the public’s attention. One of those is 2,000 yards, especially in this new pass-happy league. Peterson entered the game with 1,898 yards, more than 400 better than Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who was in second place.
“Adrian so many times made plays on his own,” Frazier said. “He’s special in every way.”
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