By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings turned a three-win 2011 season into a 10-6 record and the final spot in the NFC playoffs. The Vikings needed to beat the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Mall of America Field.
Following controversy and plenty of drama, Adrian Peterson finished with 199 rushing yards to lift the Vikings to a 34-31 victory. Peterson entered the game needing 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record.
Peterson broke off his best run on the final offensive play from scrimmage before a game-winning field goal as time expired. He broke free down off the left side and ran down the sidelines before cutting back and getting tackled on the 11-yard line.
That speaks volumes about his unselfishness. He could have gone out of bounds and gotten another carry before kicking the field goal.
A Viking-Packer nail-biter wouldn’t be complete without some sort of controversy. The Packers were driving late in the third quarter. Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to James Jones near the goal line. As Jones reached for the end zone, he lost the ball. The Vikings recovered the loose ball in the end zone. The referees deliberated and ruled the play a fumble and Viking recovery. Before referee Mike Carey finished his explanation of their decision, Packer head coach Mike McCarthy threw the red challenge flag.
Carey announced that the replay was triggered before the challenge flag was thrown. Replays clearly show Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson picking up the challenge flag while Carey is announcing his decision. The Packers were only assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
The replay showed Jones was down before the ball came out, but we learned on Thanksgiving that accuracy really doesn’t matter. As a refresher, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag when Houston Texans running back Justin Forsett’s knee was down before running for a touchdown. Schwartz’s review attempt apparently negated any review because it was an automatically reviewed play. For some reason, this was deemed different.
After splitting the season series, the rubber match will take place at Lambeau Field next weekend in the Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs.
The Vikings coaching staff did a good job of keeping their team focused on the game after the replay debacle. Leslie Frazier kept his team grounded with his even-keel demeanor on the sideline. The whole team could easily have lost control. That was a potential game-changing play, but the Vikings offense kept the Packer defense off balance. There were a few questionable defensive play calls, but did just enough to win.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has called several very good games in a row lately. Sunday was no different. He and quarterback Christian Ponder have worked very well together. Musgrave is putting the offense in position to succeed and Ponder has taken care of the ball.
If Peterson doesn’t win the MVP award it would be a travesty.
The star running back did it all for the Vikings offense; rushed 34 times for 199 yards and a touchdown, caught one pass for two yards and a touchdown and picked up at least one blitz to give Ponder an extra second to throw the ball.
Ponder has played very well of late with two turnovers (one interception and one fumble) during the team’s four-game winning streak.
The receivers did a good job of getting open and making plays. The most impressive play came on Michael Jenkins three-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. He came back to the pass and beat the defensive back to the spot.
The Vikings defense looked good at times and somewhat lost at other times. The Packers offense will do that to any defense. The Vikings had five sacks led by Everson Griffen’s three. He was the defensive player of the game. Jared Allen and Brian Robison added the other two sacks.
Robison’s was a big one. He ran Rodgers down from behind and knocked the ball out of his hands. Allen recovered at midfield. The Packers had the ball moving and started to change field position. The Vikings capitalized and scored a touchdown off the game’s only turnover.
The Packers got in the game with a long kick return and punt return on back-to-back returns by Jeremy Ross. Blair Walsh continued his amazing season with three field goals (the longest being from 54 yards, which extends his NFL record for field goals made of 50 yards or more in a season to 11). Marcus Sherels struggled as a defensive player, but had a good game as a returner with a 31 kick return average and 18 yard punt return average.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.