Since the Vikings drafted kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round of April's draft, their confidence in his ability has grown to the point that they believe he is almost automatic.
There was good reason to consider Walsh to be virtually a lock to make field goals. After all, of his 38 attempts this season, he only missed three and was perfect from 50 yards and beyond (10-for-10). The first points of Sunday's 37-34 win over Green Bay that put the Vikings in the playoffs came on a 54-yard field goal from Walsh. With 24 seconds to play, it appeared as though the team was going to need another long distance call from Walsh to win the game (until Adrian Peterson performed his own style of magic once again).
Even Walsh seemed a little surprised by the Vikings' tactics in the final two minutes.
"I understood the thinking on it – just give the ball to A.P. and let him get as many yards as he could get," Walsh said. "But it seemed like once we got inside the 40-yard line, we weren't in a hurry. I guess they figured we had got to a distance that I could make it from."
The fact that Walsh has made every kick he has tried from 50 yards and beyond was a testament to his calm under pressure and his ability to come through when the odds tell you field goals from that distance are about a 50-50 proposition.
"He just doesn't get rattled," long snapper Cullen Loeffler said. "We were talking about it on the sidelines in that final drive and, when we started running the ball and letting the clock wind down, I told him it looked like it was going to be another long one to win the game. He just shrugged as if it was no big deal. Nothing seems to get to him."
His job was made markedly easier when Peterson broke off a 26-yard run to the Packers' 11-yard line, turning what would have been an attempt of between 54 and 55 yards into a 29-yard chip shot.
"You've got to love Adrian," Walsh said. "I was confident I could make the field goal from where the ball was before the play, but he made things so much easier with what he did on that last play."
As the Vikings head to the playoffs for a rematch with Green Bay next Saturday night, they do so knowing that Walsh may have to kick another field goal to put them over the top for a playoff win. While the prospect of kicking at temperatures near zero doesn't thrill Walsh, he's ready for the challenge.
"You never know how a game is going to turn," Walsh said. "Some games you attempt four or five field goals. In other games, you're just kicking extra points. I'd love to kick a bunch of extra points, but, if we need a field goal to try to win another game, I'll be ready."
GAME DAY NOTES
Peterson's chase of Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season rushing record fell just 9 yards short, but Peterson cemented himself into the No. 2 spot on the all-time list with 2,097 yards after rushing for 199 yards Sunday. After the game, Peterson was actually disappointed he didn't get the record despite a massive game and a playoff-clinching win.
"It's a bittersweet feeling inside," Peterson said. "The first thing that came to mind when I heard that I was 9 yards short was, ‘It is what it is. It wasn't meant to happen.' Not to say that it doesn't hurt, it does."
Peterson's first carry of second half went for 20 yards and put him over 2,000 yards. In the second half of the game, he moved from seventh to second overall, passing the 2,000-yard seasons posted by O.J. Simpson, Chris Johnson, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders and Jamal Lewis.
Peterson tied an NFL record with seven games with 150 or more rushing yards, joining Earl Campbell (1980) of the Houston Oilers as the only other player to accomplish that feat.
Peterson finished with a 6.0-yard rushing average, the third highest in NFL history for a player with 250 or more carries – trailing only Jim Brown (6.4 in 1963) and Barry Sanders (6.1 in 1997).
Walsh moved into second place in the single season scoring list for Vikings kickers with 141, trailing only the monstrous 164 points Gary Anderson scored in the 1998 season.
Walsh's 35 field goals tied a rookie record held by All Haji-Sheikh of the New York Giants in 1983.
Antoine Winfield's injured right hand sustained an aggravation late in the first half that left him unable to play in the second half, which coincided with Aaron Rodgers lighting up the Vikings. After the game, Winfield tried to downplay the injury, despite his right hand being swollen to twice the size of his left.
"I'll be fine," Winfield said. "All we have do is get the swelling out of it and I'll be good to go. It hurts now, but you play with pain in this league."
Everson Griffen had a huge day despite being used in a part-time basis. He recorded three sacks Sunday and finished second on the team with eight. He was extremely hyped up before the game, leading the crowd in cheers, which, according to Griffen, is nothing unusual.
"I'm geeked up every game," Griffen said. "They always have to tell me to calm down and hold my composure. This was a huge game for us and I was running full speed all day long."
Thanks to the wild finish, the two teams combined to put up 849 yards – 444 for the Vikings and 405 for the Packers.
For the Vikings, they had 227 yards passing and 214 rushing.
Christian Ponder had the second three-touchdown game of his career Sunday.
Marcus Sherels had a big game on special teams, bringing back a 41-yard kickoff return and a 25-yard punt return.
The game featured one of the more controversial plays of the season late in the third quarter that even got the typically unflappable Leslie Frazier more than a little bit salty. On a play at the Vikings 1-yard line, Packers receiver James Jones stuck the ball out to try to get over the goal line, but was hit and fumbled into the end zone. The ruling on the field was a fumble into the end zone and a recovery by the Vikings. Before referee Mike Carey concluded his announcement, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy threw a challenge flag. Under league rules, if a coach throws a challenge flag on a play that is already going to be reviewed, his team can't benefit from any decision. As such, the play shouldn't have been reviewed and the Vikings should have had the ball on the 20-yard line. However, referee Mike Carey said he thought the replay booth had buzzed him to say it was under review before he saw McCarthy's challenge flag, which would allow the review. Instead, Green Bay was awarded a touchdown.
Brian Robison returned to action and had one of the critical plays of the game. With Green Bay looking to take its first lead of the game, B-Rob got a strip sack on Rodgers with the Vikings leading 20-17 with 8:20 to play in third quarter. The Vikings took advantage of the turnover and scored a touchdown to take a 27-17 lead.
Whether the result of fan noise or internal miscommunication, the Packers had to burn all three of their timeouts in the first half on offense to avoid getting delay-of-game penalties, being forced to use the last one with 4:14 to play in the half. After a tipped ball that was caught by Jarius Wright looked a little suspicious, Packers defensive players were emphatically telling McCarthy to challenge. But, with no timeouts, he couldn't challenge.
Green Bay didn't get its initial first down until a minute into the second quarter – by then the Vikings had a 10-0 lead.
The Vikings had as dominant a first quarter as they've had all season. Green Bay won the opening toss and deferred to the Vikings. The Vikings held the ball for 12:16 of the first quarter, running 25 plays to just six for Green Bay. Minnesota outgained the Packers 135-11, thanks in large part to Peterson running 13 times for 68 yards in the quarter. The Packers had two three-and-out drives while the Vikings had two extended drives that included conversions on three of five third-down opportunities.
Sherels helped give the Vikings a short field to work with on their second drive of the game with a 25-yard punt return that let the Vikings offense open up for business on their own 40-yard line. The team went on a seven-play, 60-yard drive sparked by a 21-yard screen pass to Toby Gerhart on a third-and-11 play and cemented by Peterson. On the drive, he had five carries for 46 yards, including the last four plays of the drive – capped by a 7-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead.
Walsh extended his own NFL record with his 10th field goal of 50 or more yards when he bombed a 54-yard field goal on the Vikings' first possession to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead four minutes into the game. Walsh was 10-of-10 from beyond 50 yards this season.
Coming into Sunday's game, Green Bay had won 18 of its last 19 regular-season finales and 12 straight games vs. the NFC North
The last time the Vikings played the Packers in a Week 17 game was in 1996.
Nicholas David, the Twin Cities native who finished third in the NBC music competition show The Voice sounded the Gjallarhorn to introduce the Vikings to the field.
The paid attendance was 64,134, the third straight sellout at the Metrodome in the home finale for the Vikings. As the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, they're guaranteed to play on the road as long as they keep winning.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.