A Vikings team that’s proven resilient throughout the 2012 regular season needed every ounce of it they had left to qualify for the postseason. When all was said and done, the Vikings defeated a high-powered Green Bay Packers team that showed no quit themselves by a count of 37-34 in front of a frenzied Mall of America Field Crowd on Sunday.
“Just a great job by our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said moments after the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. A complete team effort all the way across against a very good football team. For our guys to be as resilient as they were throughout this ballgame…our fans were terrific throughout this game. It’s the first time in a long time I felt like, playing against Green Bay and being at home, we truly had home-field advantage because our fans were loud, they made it hard for their team to really function at times, and we needed that. I’m very, very grateful to our fans that really had an impact on this ballgame at Mall of America Field.”
There’s no question the Vikings heart and their home crowd’s noise made a difference in Sunday’s outcome. But the Vikings also needed firepower to get the job done, and that came from the arm of QB Christian Ponder, the legs of RB Adrian Peterson and the right foot of rookie Pro Bowl K Blair Walsh. Ponder, playing in the biggest game of his young career, came up big by completing 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs – good for a passer rating of 120.2.
“He’s playing at a high, high level at this point,” Frazier said. “And we needed that today going against a high-powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”
As for Peterson, he’s been the heart and soul of the Vikings all season, and was in Sunday’s win as well. The best RB in the NFL carried the ball 34 times and continuously pounded a game Packers defense. He finished with 199 yards rushing and 1 TD, while also adding a receiving TD to his box score. Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and he came up 9 yards short of breaking the NFL single-season rushing mark.
Defensively, the Vikings had a hard time containing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s explosive passing game. Rodgers finished going 28 of 40 for 365 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 131.8 passer rating. But there were moments when the Vikings defense combined with a raucous Mall of America Field crowd to come up big. Green Bay was forced to punt after their first three possessions, and that allowed the Vikings to build up a 13-0 lead.
On top of that, Rodgers was pressured for much of the day. The Vikings registered 5 sacks of Rodgers, with 3.0 of them coming from Everson Griffen and 1.0 each coming from Jared Allen and Brian Robison. It was Robison who sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter that led to a TD pass from Ponder to Peterson and a 27-17 lead. LB Erin Henderson led the Vikings in tackles with 7 and Kevin Williams had a big pass defensed early in the game on a 3rd down.
The most important sequence of the game came at the end, following a cold-blooded offensive series by Rodgers and the Packers that resulted in a 2-yard TD toss to WR Jordy Nelson and a tied game at 34 with 2:54 to play. Marcus Sherels returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards to the Minnesota 28, setting up Ponder and Co. with a 1st and 10 and an opportunity to march for a game-winning score.
And that’s exactly what happened, thanks in large part to a crucial 3rd-down throw by Ponder. After bouncing a pass incomplete to Peterson on 1st down and then Peterson losing a yard on a 2nd-down carry, the Vikings faced a 3rd and 11 at the 2-minute warning. The worst-case scenario for the Vikings was an incomplete pass that forced them to punt the ball to Rodgers, who could put together a game-winning drive of his own. Rodgers never got that chance, though, and it’s because of a perfectly-placed pass by Ponder to WR Michael Jenkins down the left sideline that yielded 25 yards, a 1st down, and hope within the stadium.
From that point on, the Vikings wisely rode the legs of Peterson, giving it to him 4 times and watching him rip off 37 yards to put the Vikings on the Green Bay 11. Walsh, who had already hit from 54 and 37 earlier in the game, handled things from there, converting a 29-yard game-winner as time expired to give the Vikings their 37th point, their 10th win, and their first trip to the playoffs since 2009.
Sunday’s win and the subsequent postseason berth is a remarkable accomplishment for a team coming off a 3-13 season a year ago. This is a team that, prior to the season starting, many thought would be an afterthought by this time. But these Vikings are anything but an afterthought at the moment.
They’re a playoff team.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh, Brian Robison, Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson, Everson Griffen, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Leslie Frazier, Michael Jenkins
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