The Vikings didn't get a 100-yard game from Adrian Peterson, but they still easily won the ground game thanks to an impressive defensive effort and Christian Ponder's timely rushes. Plus, more than a dozen notes that tell the tale of the Vikings' 23-6 win.
The Vikings' 23-6 win against the Houston Texans
was supposed a battle of the league's premier running backs, but it didn't materialize.
's eight-game streak with 100 yards or more rushing was snapped, as he carried 25 times for 86 yards, but 14 of his carries were for no gain or for losses.
"When he doesn't rush for 200, then (defenders) like feel you've done a good job. He did everything we asked him to do today. He had some tough runs," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's a very good defensive team he was going up against. That's one of the top run defenses we're going to face. For Adrian to continue to pound it in there and come up with some tough yards when we needed them, it really helped set up some things in our passing game."
Worse yet was Houston's Arian Foster
, who had 10 carries for 15 yards – his worst performance since Dec. 19, 2010, when he ran 11 times for 15 yards against Tennessee.
"We really did a good job against the run today. A lot of what they do play-action wise and bootleg wise is set up by how well they run the ball," Frazier said. "I haven't looked at the numbers, but I felt like we did a really good job against their run game, which really negates their passing game."
Not only did Foster not lead the game in rushing, there were four others who had more yards on the ground – Peterson (86), Christian Ponder
(48), Toby Gerhart
(31) and Ben Tate
For all of their rushing prowess, the Texans had more first downs awarded via penalty (two) than rushing (one).
The Vikings' edge in rushing was enormous. Minnesota ran 42 times for 174 yards – a 4.1-yard average. Houston ran just 16 times, but averaged only 2.1 yards a carry.
GAME DAY NOTES
Ponder was extremely efficient in the pocket, completing 16 of 30 passes for 174 yards with one TD, no interceptions and a passer rating of 81.8. He won the battle against Matt Schaub, who completed 18 of 32 passes for 178 yards with no TDs or picks and a passer rating of 72.1.
The only teams to beat the Texans this year are the Packers, Patriots and Vikings, but, with a win next week at Indianapolis, Houston can still lock down the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Vikings offense has been criticized for not using its wide receivers effectively since Percy Harvin went down with an ankle injury. On Sunday, of Ponder's 30 pass attempts, 18 were targeted to wide receivers – with eight thrown to tight ends and four to running backs.
Entering the game, the Vikings were 30th in third-down defense, while Houston led the league in that category. You wouldn't have known it Sunday. The Vikings converted 9 of 18 third-down plays (50 percent), while the Texans converted just 1 of 11 third downs (9 percent).
The Vikings outgained Houston 345-187, thanks in no small part to running 73 plays to just 53 for the Texans.
J.J. Watt came into the game three sacks short of the all-time record in the NFL held by Michael Strahan. He got one sack Sunday, but the Vikings had four sacks of Schaub. Entering the game, the Texans were second in sacks, but having just one Sunday was a tribute the Vikings offensive line not allowing Houston to dictate the pace of the game.
The Vikings dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 34:46 of the game – a nine-and-a-half minute advantage over the Texans.
After the Texans scored on their first drive of the game, the Vikings defense forced Houston into three-play drives on five of their next seven series and one of the two drives that wasn't three plays was just four.
Houston was forced to punt on six of its first eight drives of the game. The other two were a field goal on their first drive and a fumble on their third.
In the fourth quarter, with Houston desperately trying to get back into the game, the Vikings held the ball for 11:36 of the final 15 minutes.
In a truly team effort, Harrison Smith was the only the Vikings player with more than five tackles.
Jared Allen recorded his 10th sack of the year – the seventh straight year Allen has recorded double-digit sacks.
With his 56-yard field goal, Blair Walsh broke the tie he held for field goals of 50 yards or more when he hit his ninth – leaving legends Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson in his wake. What makes his achievement more impressive is that he did it with a 56-yarder, which tied Paul Edinger's franchise record, but Walsh is also 9-for-9 from 50-plus as a rookie.
Smith may be hearing from the NFL fine police again. He was assessed a personal foul for hitting Schaub high, but it should be noted that the officials didn't say that it was a hit to Schaub's head.
Lost in the defeat was that Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson caught his 100th pass of the season in the fourth quarter – the fourth time in his career that he has caught 100 or more passes in a season.
The Vikings had seven plays of 20 yards or more. Houston had none.
One of the big concerns of the Vikings was to get off to a strong start offensively. In the first quarter, Ponder completed four of five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, posting a passer rating of 154.6.
The Texans have enjoyed a franchise-best season, but there were times Sunday when the home crowed was booing loudly and, by the time the Vikings scored their final points of the game, Reliant Stadium was about half full.
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.