MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson picked up the Minnesota Vikings and gave them a thrilling ride to the playoffs, where the next stop on this improbable journey is, yes, Green Bay.
This game was so full of action, intrigue and tension they’re going to stage it again next weekend.
Peterson finished 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, but he still powered the Vikings past the Packers 37-34 Sunday with 199 yards to set up a rematch at Lambeau Field in a first-round playoff game.
“I told myself to come into this game focused on one thing, and that’s winning,” Peterson said.
Peterson rumbled around the left side of the line for a 27-yard gain in the closing seconds, his career-high 34th carry exactly one year after reconstructive surgery on his left knee. 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.
“For our guys to be as resilient as they were, it has you swelling with pride,” coach Leslie Frazier said.
The division champion Packers (11-5) dropped to the NFC’s No. 3 seed. Their five-game winning streak against the Vikings ended.
“I had a feeling that we had the game in the bag the whole game,” Vikings cornerback Chris Cook said. “It was just a vibe that I had on the sideline, in how we were carrying ourselves.”
Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions, 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.
Ponder 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.
“It’s disappointing. A lot of us wanted that extra week,” Rodgers said.
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.
“It wasn’t meant to happen, or it would’ve happened. Not to say it doesn’t hurt, because it does,” Peterson said of Dickerson’s 28-year-old record. “But we came in here tonight and accomplished the ultimate goal, and that was getting a win and punching our ticket to the playoffs.”
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.
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.
“It took us a little while to adjust to the crowd noise, and we didn’t get going,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That usually happens up here. This is a tough place to play, no doubt. We anticipated this being the loudest environment of the year. They pumped it in here pretty good today.”
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.
Rodgers played without injured leading receiver Randall Cobb, so Greg Jennings was the main guy, grabbing eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But the Vikings sacked Rodgers five times, recovering a fumble on one of them at midfield to set up a third-quarter touchdown.
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.
Just as Ponder capably complemented Peterson, DuJuan Harris came out of nowhere to provide Rodgers some help. Green Bay has been proving lately it’s not a one-sided offense, either, and Harris rushed 14 times for 70 yards
But this was Peterson’s show. Second-and-27? He surged off right tackle and bounced outside for 28 yards on a drive that ended with his second touchdown, a 2-yard reception that pushed the lead to 27-17 in the third quarter. The “MVP” chants from the crowd rang out in earnest after that.
NOTES: Cobb’s absence meant the Packers went without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since 2003. Cobb finished with 954 yards. … Vikings WR Jerome Simpson was woozy after an end-zone collision in the third quarter, falling back down after trying to get up the first time. He passed concussion tests and returned to the game.