The Vikings never lost so much in a win.
They lost hold on the No. 2 draft spot. They ended their nine-game streak without an interception. They lost rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to a concussion. And, easily the worst of all, they lost their best player to at least a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee (and quite likely more ligament damage).
There were many cruel ironies for the Vikings in their 33-26 win over the Washington Redskins. With Peterson and Ponder hurt on back-to-back plays on the first two offensive snaps of the second half, Toby Gerhart broke his first post-Peterson-injury run 67 yards and was caught from behind.
Gerhart's first 100-yard rushing performance of his career could be a precursor of his workload early next season, as Peterson is likely facing at least a nine-month recovery period. Any regular production out of Peterson in the first months of the 2012 season would be a bonus.
Ponder's injury came with a helmet-to-helmet hit as he was being sacked, bringing on Joe Webb, who only passed five times in the second half, completing four, but also rushed five times for 34 yards. The forced insertion of Gerhart and Webb ignited the offense, yet at the same time may have been foreshadowing its future.
Gerhart has proved he is a good runner. It was the third time in four games that he eclipsed 90 yards, but Saturday's win caused the Vikings to lose Ponder, Peterson and a potential shot at Andrew Luck or a bountiful bundle in a trade for the NFL draft's first pick. The Vikings are all but eliminated from the top pick in the draft as they trail the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams by one game in the drive for the top pick. They also have a tougher strength of schedule against the Colts at this point, meaning Indianapolis is likely to lose the top pick only if it wins its third straight game and St. Louis loses its last.
For his part, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he never entertained the notion of fans who wanted the Vikings to "suck for Luck."
"I want to win. I want to win and then I want to win next week," Frazier said. "That never enters my mind. Win. We came here with one purpose and that was to win this game. We're going to line up next week with one purpose and that's to go out with a home win – pure and simple."
"Next week" puts a merciful end to the Vikings' sour season with a home game against the Chicago Bears on New Year's Day. It very well might portend to the new year of the Vikings offense as well.
Webb will likely start and Gerhart will be the bruising back lined up behind him on Jan. 1. Gerhart will almost certainly be the starting running back in September as Peterson continues to regain strength and confidence in what will then be his surgically repaired knee. But already the Vikings have a growing confidence in Gerhart's ability.
"He ran with great authority (in the past), particularly in that first start (for Peterson)," Frazier said. "You could see the momentum really began to come for him and he's just continued that. His confidence is there. He's getting the carries, so he's getting the opportunities and he's making the most of it."
Gerhart set a team record for longest run in the Redskins series, a 67-yarder, which was also his career longest run and helped boost his average to 9.9 yards per carry, tying him for the seventh-highest average in Vikings history (with a minimum of 10 rushing attempts) in a game.
But Webb's performance Saturday provided even more intrigue. With Ponder's concussion, Webb will likely be the starter Sunday for the season finale, but will he have a chance to compete for a starting role in the 2012 season opener? Another dynamic performance might give him that opportunity.
"Some guys just have that and he's one of those guys that just has that because of his personality. People expect something positive to happen," Frazier said.
Webb showed in previous appearances this year that consistency and accuracy can be issues, but he also instantly changes the way defenses approach the Vikings. It also changes the way offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave calls the game.
On Saturday, it all got wrapped into one big present in the second half. Webb's throws were limited to five, but he connected on four of them, none better than a throw in the face of a blitz that hit Percy Harvin deep down the field.
"That's Joe. Even in practice he'll have some bad throws and go, ‘Awww, man.' And then all the sudden he'll make a throw like he did (Saturday)," Frazier said. "He's done that on a number of occasions, where he might have a couple of bad plays. In clutch situations, he finds a way to make plays. He's like the guy that missed his first 10 shots in a (basketball) game and now that the game is on the line, he makes that game-winning shot, and Joes' like that in a lot of ways."
Is Webb a receiver, running back or running quarterback? Like Harvin, Webb is hard to define, and proving harder to defend.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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