The script was written for another Vikings horror story. After leading the Packers for the entire game, Minnesota’s defense and special teams were going to collapse, costing the team a playoff berth, and wasting an Adrian Peterson performance for the record books. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was going to follow in the footsteps of Gary Anderson, with his potential game-winning chip shot field goal sailing wide right as time expired. Then the Packers were going to ride Aaron Rodgers’ hot hand and steal the game in overtime, giving the Vikings a moral victory, but no playoff encore at Lambeau Field.
Fortunately, the script that the Vikings received must have featured the alternate ending. Walsh drilled his third field of the game, cannons exploded, time expired, and the field was a mob of happy purple players and coaches. The Vikings 37-34 victory propelled the team into the NFL’s final playoff slot and capped one of the most exhilarating, exhausting, and unlikely seasons in Minnesota history. The team’s 10-6 record is a seven win improvement from last year’s 3-13 campaign, and Sunday’s victory came exactly one year after Adrian Peterson’s surgery for a devastating knee injury.
So, how did this happen? The Viking’s New Age punter Chris Kluwe says the team is riding “The Karma Train,” and that this season is redemption for all the horrible things that have happened in the past. He may be right. Sunday’s contest had all the ingredients of a typical Vikings chokefest, but the breaks went the Vikings’ way throughout the game, and when the contest was on the line, key players elevated their game and refused to lose.
Christian Ponder has been justly maligned in this column for his inconsistency, inaccuracy, and poor decisions, but his performance on Sunday went beyond competent, and could well be career defining. In the second year quarterback’s biggest game of his life, he delivered 234 yards, three TD passes, no turnovers, and a career-best 120.2 quarterback rating. With two minutes left in the game and the score tied at 34-34, Ponder was staring at a third-and-11 from his own 27 yard line and the very real possibility that the team was going to have to punt and give Green Bay the ball back with a chance to win. Instead of playing it safe and handing the ball to Adrian Peterson, Ponder zipped a 25-yard completion to Michael Jenkins down the right sideline for a first down. Three Adrian Peterson runs and a Blair Walsh field goal later, the Vikings were playoff bound. Ponder’s error-free performance was aided by several dropped interceptions and a miraculous Jarius Wright catch of a deflected wounded duck pass, but Ponder stayed calm and delivered completions when the team needed them the most.
Sunday’s victory was made possible by an impressive cast of purple heroes. Without Everson “The Sack Daddy” Griffen’s three sacks, the touchdown catches from Jarius Wright and Michael Jenkins, and Blair Walsh’s touchbacks and three field goals, the Vikings would have been banished into the cold night with a heart breaking loss.
However, the Vikings owe Sunday’s win, and their entire season, to Adrian Peterson. Peterson’s pursuit of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record came up 9 yards short, but the Vikings’ superhuman running back has nothing to be ashamed of. Peterson put up 199 rushing yards against a stacked Packer’s defense. He also scored twice, on a 7-yard run and a 2-yard catch and his final 26-yard run set up the winning field goal and will be forever burned into the memory banks of Viking fans everywhere.
There have been a lot of memorable running backs in Vikings franchise history. Bill Brown, Dave Osborne, Chuck Foreman, Ted Brown, and Robert Smith all had great careers, but none should be mentioned in the same conversation as Adrian Peterson. Adrian is not only the best running back to ever wear the purple, he may be the best in NFL history. Nobody picked the Vikings to win more than five or six games this year, but then, nobody expected Peterson to bounce back from knee surgery and deliver the second best rushing season in NFL history. Peterson put the team on his back, and we all came along for the ride. In next week’s playoff game against the Packers, pay special attention to Adrian Peterson. Watch those “Mike Singletary” eyes, the way he bounces off would be tacklers, and puts his head down and destroys defensive backs. Life is short, especially for NFL running backs. We may never witness greatness like this again.