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.
(© 2012 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.)