Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.
Green Bay at Minnesota
Dec. 30, 2012
In September 2012, nobody expected the Minnesota Vikings to be playing a meaningful game come December. The Vikings were coming off a 3-13 season under Leslie Frazier, featured a shaky young quarterback in Christian Ponder, fielded a subpar defensive secondary and planned to rely on a running back returning from reconstructive left knee surgery. Yet as the calendar was about to flip to 2013, the Vikings gave the Purple Nation reason to party the day before New Year's Eve. Propelled by All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson's remarkable return to health, the Vikings had exceeded expectations with three straight wins and a 9-6 record heading into the regular-season finale versus dreaded NFC North champion Green Bay. A win over their nemesis from Wisconsin would send the Vikings to the postseason for just the fourth time since the 2000 NFC Championship game. More than a playoff spot was on the line. Peterson's historic second half of the season left him just 208 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. The 11-4 Packers were installed as three-point favorites.
The 64,134 purple-clad fans rocked the Metrodome from the opening kickoff. Spurred by their energy and the legs of Adrian Peterson, Minnesota jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead. Peterson accumulated 68 yards in the stanza as the chant "MVP" began to reverberate. Peterson's determined running set up Blair Walsh's 54-yard field goal before the running back himself scored on a 7-yard gallop.
Minnesota increased its advantage to 13-0 early in the second quarter, thanks to a Walsh 37-yard field goal. Shockingly, the Vikings defense had contained and frustrated the pilot of Green Bay's potent aerial assault – quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With 9:07 remaining in the half, the league's top-ranked passer had engineered just one first down. That was about to change.
After a 32-yard punt return put the Packers at the Minnesota 42, Rodgers led a 12-play TD march, capped by a 3-yard pass to Greg Jennings. The Vikings, though, weren't shaken. Christian Ponder, playing his best game in purple, hit Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson with key passes on a seven-play, 60-yard drive. Ponder finished it with a toss to Wright, who caught the ball at the 5 and dove into the end zone for a 20-7 Minnesota lead. Foretelling the second half, Rodgers and the Packers quickly moved the ball into field goal range for Mason Crosby to connect on a 51-yard boot as time expired to cut the Vikings cushion to 10.
The third quarter began the way the first half ended – with the Packers on the move. Rodgers led an efficient 80-yard, six-play drive, culminated by a 5-yard TD pass to Jennings. Now clinging to a three-point lead, the Vikings desperately needed a sustained drive. They got a 20-yard burst by Peterson to put him over 2,000 yards for the season but little else. Three plays following a Minnesota punt, the Packers faced a third-and-7 from midfield. To the surprise of no one, Rodgers dropped back to pass. To the surprise of everyone, he turned the ball over. Brian Robison forced a fumble as he sacked Rodgers and Jared Allen recovered the ball to halt Green Bay's momentum. A few players later, a 28-yard Peterson run put Minnesota in the red zone. Ponder completed the drive by flipping a 2-yard TD pass to a wide open Peterson. Minnesota led 27-17 late in the third.
Green Bay remained unfazed. The Packers needed just 1:56 to make it a three-point game. A 73-yard pass from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson down the right sideline preceded an 8-yard touchdown toss to James Jones. Following a three-and-out by Minnesota, the Packers tied the game at 27 on a 40-yard field goal from Crosby.
With 12:21 remaining in the contest and perhaps their season, the Vikings needed a big play. Ponder delivered it when he connected with Wright on a 65-yard pass down the middle of the field. On third-and-goal, Ponder looked for Michael Jenkins, who was draped by Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings in the end zone. Ponder trusted his wideout to make a play and Jenkins did with an improbable diving 3-yard touchdown grab. Minnesota once again had a seven-point lead.
Like their other leads, this Vikings advantage was about to evaporate. A hush fell over the Metrodome crowd as Rodgers methodically moved the Packers 78 yards in eight plays. A 2-yard pass to Nelson tied the score with 2:57 remaining in the classic duel.
Following the two-minute warning, Minnesota faced a third-and-7 from its own 27. A failed conversion would give the Packers a golden opportunity to steal a win and end the Vikings season. Ponder didn't let that happen. He found an open Jenkins along the sideline for a 25-yard gain. From there, it was all Peterson. Approaching Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark, Peterson carried three times to move the ball to the Green Bay 37 and the outer edge of Walsh's field-goal range. With 24 ticks left on the clock, the Vikings wanted to get closer for Walsh. Peterson wanted that as well, plus the record. On his final carry of the day, Peterson ran off left tackle and pounded his way for a 26-yard gain. The Vikings called timeout with three seconds remaining. Teammates surrounded Peterson. Safety Jamarca Sanford hoisted Peterson in the air and carried him to the sideline as the crowd went into a frenzy. On the one-year anniversary of his knee surgery, Peterson ran for 199 yards to give him 2,097 on the season, just 27 feet short of breaking Dickerson's record. Any disappointment of failing to top the 28-year-old mark quickly dissipated after Walsh hit a 29-yard field goal as time expired to give Minnesota a 37-34 win and a trip to the playoffs.
Christian Ponder connected with Michael Jenkins on a 25-yard pass with the Vikings facing a third-and-7 from their own 27 late in the game. A failed conversion most likely would have led to a Green Bay victory. Instead, the completion led to Blair Walsh's game-winning field goal for Minnesota.
Vikings Player of the Game
There has never been a more obvious choice. Running back Adrian Peterson ran for 199 yards on 34 carries to give him 2,097 on the season, nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's 1984 record. A year removed from a devastating knee injury, Peterson became the seventh player in NFL history to top 2,000 yards in a season.
Purple Honorable Mention
Much-maligned quarterback Christian Ponder had his best game as a Viking. The second-year starter completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"If it (the record) happened, it would have come to me, but I didn't want to focus on it at all. I wasn't focused on it. I went out and played my game and accomplished what we wanted to. We're in now. We're in the playoffs. We get to fight another week."
Adrian Peterson (via the 12/30/2012 New York Times)
"I know Eric Dickerson is probably stoked. God willing I'll get it next year, or at least make it close."
Leslie Frazier (via the 12/30/2012 New York Times)
"He is without question the best running back in our game, and truly in our mind the most valuable player in our league. We don't win this game today without the effort of Adrian Peterson. He's special in every way."
- The 34 carries for Peterson were a career high.
- The Packers had won 12 consecutive divisional games.
The exciting Minnesota win set up a rematch with the Packers the following Saturday night at Lambeau Field in the first round of the playoffs. An elbow injury to Christian Ponder forced the Vikings to play backup quarterback Joe Webb, who completed just 9 of 27 passes. Green Bay held Adrian Peterson to 99 yards on 22 carries as the Packers cruised to a 24-10 win. A few weeks later, Peterson was named the league's Most Valuable Player.