Peterson, Walsh lead Vikings to OT victory
Game was first NFL regular season game with new OT rules
MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson’s left leg was untested, in the truest sense.
Last December 24 the Vikings’ All-Pro running back shredded two ligaments in his left knee. In the eight-plus months since surgery he had pledged to be right here, right now. But would he be the same?
Blair Walsh’s right leg was untested, at least professionally. The rookie placekicker was playing in his first NFL game. Should he have faced this much pressure this quickly?
In a 26-23 overtime victory over Jacksonville at Mall of America Field — the first NFL overtime game to have two possessions — the Vikings got at least two answers: Peterson’s left knee is sound. Walsh? Let’s just say the kid is all right.
Defying the laws of recovery, Peterson started and ran the ball 17 times for 84 yards and both Vikings touchdowns, becoming the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher in the process. Walsh went 4-for-4 on field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation time expired to force overtime and a 38-yarder for the win. And the Vikings, despite an ice-cold start and an off-and-on defense that consistently struggled to get off the field, are 1-0.
“It’s a good thing there are no pictures in the win-loss column,” said Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who shook off a slow start to complete 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards. “It didn’t start off that well and a lot of that has to do with me. But a win is a win and this one sets the tone for the rest of the year.”
At the very least it set the standard for drama. The Vikings held a five-point lead with 78 seconds left, only to have Blaine Gabbert (23-for-39, 260 yards) lead the Jaguars on an 76-yard scoring drive that ended with his 39-yard pass to Cecil Shorts with 20 seconds left in regulation.
That plus a two-point conversion gave the Jags a 23-20 lead.
On the ensuing possession Ponder hit Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards. Following a time out he hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for six yards on an out pattern, putting the ball at the Jacksonville 37. Walsh tied it as the clock wound down.
In the overtime — the first time since the league’s new overtime rules were established before last season — the first team that scored didn’t automatically win. So, after Walsh hit the 38-yarder, the Vikings had to hold the Jaguars one final time. The game didn’t end until Gabbert’s fourth-down pass to Laurent Robinson fell incomplete, spoiling Mike Mularkey’s debut as the Jaguars’ head coach.
“I understand their disappointment,” Mularkey said of his team. “I was proud of what they did to give us even a chance there. We had a chance there all the way up to 20 seconds to go.”
By that time Adrian Peterson’s legend had grown even bigger. He didn’t play in the preseason, and his role for Sunday’s opener was much-discussed all week. Saturday he, head coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and running backs coach James Saxon met. Peterson would start. The goal was to get him 10-15 carries.
He got more.
By the time Peterson really got going the Vikings were down 9-0. The Jaguars, while converting on five of eight third-down plays in the first half, had scoring drives of 11 and 17 plays. It would have been worse had the Vikings not forced a field goal on the former, then blocked the extra point after the latter.
Finally, taking advantage of a short field, the Vikings got going late in the first half with a 59-yard drive that included three Ponder passes to Percy Harvin and Peterson’s three-yard TD run.
Gabbert’s fumble led to another Vikings score early in the third quarter, which ended with Peterson’s action-hero-like dive over the top.
Peterson was rolling, on the way to eclipsing Robert Smith as the team’s all-time rusher.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “I’ve had to work as hard as I’ve ever worked in my life. Through the ups and downs I knew it was going to be like a roller coaster, and it was. I kept my faith throughout. … I just relaxed and played my game.”
So did Walsh, who was much-needed, with all four field goals coming after the third quarter. His 42-yarder gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead late, but he wasn’t done. After Gabbert’s heroics, Walsh watched as the Vikings tried desperately to get in position for a final kick.
“One thing that you learn about this game is it is never over till it’s over, we saw that today. You have to stay even keel,” said Gabbert. “You never know what is going to happen. The teams and players in this league are too talented. We need to take a breath, and get ready and rebound from it. We had some positive things today.”
Walsh told the coaches he was good from 60 yards in, and he was right. His 55-yarder had yards to spare.
“It is awesome to just go out there and get a win for these guys,” Walsh said.
In the overtime the Vikings — with Peterson running three times for 26 yards — moved into position for Walsh’s final kick.
“As a rookie, it doesn’t get much more pressure than that,” Frazier said of Walsh. “And to come through for us, it really improved the confidence of our players. It’s a test of fortitude. It’s incredible.”
And so is Peterson.
“Adrian is a freak athlete,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “Eight months after surgery? He’s not even supposed to be out there.”
NOTES: The Jaguars played without two of their best defensive players. Derek Cox (hamstring) and linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) were both inactive. Cox is the team’s best cover corner and Smith the team’s best linebacker. Cornerback Aaron Ross and linebacker William Middleton started in their place. … Ponder’s 270 passing yards was the second-most of his career and the fifth-best for a Vikings quarterback on opening day. … Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ended a 38-day holdout last week, ran 19 times for 77 yards and caught six passes for 18 yards.