Peterson comes up just short of rushing record
Rodgers: "I told him he's the best"
MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson drove downfield, Green Bay Packers defenders draped all over him, pushing, pushing, pushing toward history.
Freeze-frame that moment. With the game on the line, the playoffs in the balance and an all-time record just a few yards away, the Minnesota Vikings gave the ball to Peterson. Again, and again and again.
And he delivered. Peterson ran for the final 26 yards of his 199 yards on Sunday at Mall of America Field, a bruising off-tackle adventure in which he seemed to carry the entire Green Bay defense with him. When he was finally tackled, the Vikings were in position for Blair Walsh to kick a 29-yard field goal as time expired that gave the Vikings a 37-34 victory.
History? Peterson finished the regular season with 2,097 yards. He is the seventh player to run for 2,000 or more in a season, and he now ranks second, all-time, coming just eight yards short of tying Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 and nine yards shy of breaking it.
"It's a bittersweet feeling inside," Peterson said. "The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that I was nine yards short was, 'It is what it is. It wasn't meant to happen.' Not to say it doesn't hurt because it does. Ultimately we came in here tonight and accomplished the ultimate goal of getting the win and taking our team to the playoffs."
The Vikings (10-6) qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009, ended Green Bay's 12-game NFC North winning streak and knocked the bye out of Green Bay's plans. Had the Packers (11-5) won, they'd have had the No. 2 NFC seed and would have been off next week. As it is, these two teams get to go at each other again, Saturday at Lambeau Field.
"Any time a team does that to you, you want to fix that," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "I don't know if I'd use the word redemption. But now we have a chance at them again. I'll say this: We're looking forward to it."
"How about those Vikings, huh?" said Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier. "I attribute this to the high character of people we have on this football team."
In an entertaining and brutally physical game under the dome, the Vikings jumped out to a 13-0 lead, but had to fend off a Packers team that caught fire near the end of the first half. Green Bay tied the game twice - at 27 on Mason Crosby's field goal early in the fourth quarter and again at 34 when Aaron Rodgers threw his fourth TD pass of the day, a two-yarder to Jordy Nelson with 2:54 left.
Each time the Vikings answered.
And this time it wasn't just Peterson doing all the work -- though he carried more than his share of the load. Quarterback Christian Ponder completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He led the Vikings 79 yards in seven plays to retake the lead at 34-27 on his three-yard pass to Michael Jenkins.
On the final drive of the day, on third-and-11 from his own 27, Ponder hit Michael Jenkins for 25 yards for a first down, setting up Peterson's finale.
" For the first time in a long time I felt playing against Green Bay and being at home, we truly had homefield advantage," Frazier said. "Our fans were loud."
It was just enough to beat the Packers. Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four TDs, but the Vikings sacked him five times and turned his third-quarter fumble into a touchdown. DuJuan Harris ran for 70 yards, and four Packers receivers had receptions of 20 or more yards.
Ultimately, though, it wasn't enough to make up for Peterson, who ran for a score and caught a TD pass. He set an NFL record with 861 rushing yards in December. He tied the league record with seven games with 150 or more rushing yards.
"(He's the) best," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. "It's not even close. It's just not close. He's the best I've ever played against."
And now the Packers and Vikings have to do it all over again. After the game, Rodgers sought out Peterson on the field.
"I told him he's the best," Rodgers said. "He might have won the MVP today. Hopefully we win the game next week."
Notes: Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield played with a broken hand, but had to leave the game after re-injuring the hand. His status for next week is not yet known. . . . Walsh extended his record for most field goals of 50 or more yards with his 10th Sunday. ... The Packers made wide receiver Randall Cobb inactive, because they didn't want to take any chances with his sore ankle . . . Packers wide receiver Donald Driver was a healthy scratch for the second time in three weeks.
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