Adrian Peterson, coming off major knee surgery, might be even better.
The All-Pro running back - making his first appearance against the Packers this season - continued his remarkable comeback with 210 rushing yards (on 21 carries), including an 82-yard touchdown run. Both are career bests against the Packers.
"It's hard to believe. I can't believe it," said Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett of Peterson, who leads the NFL in rushing with 1,446 yards, even after tearing up his knee on Dec. 24. "It's unbelievable watching him. I think he's better. He came back better."
Pickett was a part of a short-handed defense with the daunting task of trying to stop Peterson on Sunday. Two of the teams better run defenders - Clay Matthews, out for the third straight game with a hamstring injury, and C.J. Wilson, out with a knee injury – left the Packers with a recipe for disaster. And on at least three Peterson runs, it was just that.
Peterson's 82-yarder set the tone for his day when, on a third-and-1 in the second quarter, he went off right tackle and easily could have stepped out of bounds after making a first down. But instead, he ran through three tackle attempts - two along the sideline - and then outran three pursuers the final 70 yards to the end zone. The Vikings took their first lead of the game at 14-10 with 5:08 remaining.
Until that point, Peterson had carried 12 times for just 44 yards as the Vikings stuck to a vanilla game plan – either hand it to Peterson or play-action fake it to him and find tight end Kyle Rudolph. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder - without his top passing target for a third straight game (Percy Harvin, out with an ankle injury) – barely looked to throw to his wide receivers. He had just five completions late into the fourth quarter, with a stretch of seven straight drives spanning almost 39 minutes in the middle of the game without a completion. He finished 12-of-25 for just 119 yards.
"Obviously, with the success they were having running the ball on us, they didn't need to try to throw the ball early on," said linebacker A.J. Hawk. "But we felt like if we could get him moving, get some pressure on him, move him off the spot like we say, then hopefully we can capitalize and get some turnovers."
The only Ponder throws that failed to hit the ground from Rudolph's 7-yard touchdown reception with 12:18 left in the second quarter and a Rudolph catch with just under 3:30 left in the fourth found the hands of Morgan Burnett. The Packers' safety recorded two interceptions that effectively wiped out Peterson's big day and swung the tide for the Packers to come out on top in the end.
Burnett's first interception – in the end zone - came two plays after Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run to open the second half. His second one – at the Packers' 13-yard line - helped the Packers overcome a 23-yard run by Peterson and a personal foul on Tramon Williams.
Peterson's three long runs accounted for 153 of his 210 yards. The Packers gave credit to Peterson for those runs, only pointing to one disappointment on their part, which Pickett addressed when asked about defensive adjustments at halftime.
"We were just like, ‘Hey, we know the ones he did (for big gains), it wasn't that calls were bad, we just missed tackles,'" said Pickett. "He broke tackles. We all knew going into the game this guy breaks a lot of tackles. We just didn't get enough hats on the ball."
Peterson forced three missed tackles on the second level, using a spin move, on his 48-yarder.
"We've got to find a way to tackle him, but we didn't do that today. That's for sure," Hawk said. "We're not going to make any excuses why we couldn't stop him other than to give him credit for what he did."
Tacking was a major issue for the Packers in 2011 but has been much less of an issue this season. Of course, Peterson, which Hawk alluded to, played a major part in making it look bad.
"He's a Hall of Fame player, so he's going to do that," said Pickett. "But we don't want him to do that."
The Packers stressed all week the importance of gang-tacking Peterson and did again after the game. But on Peterson's long runs, after his burst through the first level, defenders found themselves in precarious one-on-one situations.
"You know what you're getting yourself into when you're playing Adrian Peterson," said linebacker Brad Jones. "You don't want to get one guy on an island with him. You want to get that whole defense swarming to the ball."
Only Tom Wilson of the 1956 Los Angeles Rams (223 yards) and Greg Bell of the 1989 Rams (221 yards) have run for the more yards against the Packers in the history of the franchise. The Packers lost both those games but overcame Peterson to win Sunday, tying them with the Bears at 8-4 for the NFC North lead.
"Obviously, giving up 200-some yards rushing is not a whole lot of fun, but this was a battle," said Hawk. "This was a good NFC North battle. These are the games we have to find a way to win and we did. I think we're going to be better for it."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org