Word at Winter Park the past couple of weeks is that some of those in the building were tired of hearing about needing records to win. What's wrong with setting records on the way to winning? In the NFL, take a win anyway possible. On Sunday, the Vikings got the 27-7 win and the lead for the last wild-card spot despite Peterson being unable to get his game in gear.
He finished with only 3 yards on 14 carries. He entered the game with 1,197 yards and left it with 1,200 yards and not in sole place of the league rushing title for the first time since Week 5 of the NFL season. Pittsburgh's Willie Parker was the league leader before Peterson's 224-yard effort against the Chicago Bears, and Parker is now back in the lead at 1,217 yards, with LaDainian Tomlinson only 5 yards behind Peterson.
"They tried to keep us from running outside, but as you saw we made them pay a couple of times," Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said. "They must have brought their corners up about 20 percent of the time (to stop the run)."
Three weeks ago, the Vikings entered their first game of the season without the services of the record-setting rookie running back.
Now with Peterson in the game and getting shut down in the first half, the Vikings are learning to win without a superhero backfield effort. On those occasions, they are getting it done with Chester Taylor contributing in the rushing game, Tarvaris Jackson managing the offense efficiently in the passing game and the defense continuing its aggressive and opportunistic ways.
"You have to give credit to the (49ers) defense, those guys played well," Peterson said. "Things didn't go well for me (Sunday). They were able to slow me down, but we had Chester and he did a great job. I have to keep my head up and look forward to next weekend, come out and do something different."
"Next weekend" is a Monday night game against the Chicago Bears, the same team that helped propel Peterson into the NFL rushing lead and league prominence.
Seeing Peterson break franchise and league records in his rookie season has been and would continue to be exciting, but having the Vikings learn to win on days in which he doesn't set records might be even more gratifying for the team.
"Maybe they were keying a bit on Peterson, but as you saw there's more to our offense than just one man," said running back Chester Taylor, whose 84-yard touchdown run helped him to a 101-yard effort on eight carries. "It helps our running game when we have the threat of passing. The passing game opened up the running game for us today. As you saw, we're not one-dimensional."
WALL OF INTERCEPTIONS
The Williams Wall turned into the Williams Wow on Sunday.
The defensive tackle tandem of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, known more for "smashing the run," as Pat likes to say, helped limit the 49ers' rushing game but was more impressive in this game for suddenly showing off their soft hands instead of their hard hits.
Kevin Williams started the game with an interception after he jumped and tipped the first pass of the day. He corralled it and beat quarterback Trent Dilfer to the pylon for an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown only 14 seconds into the game.
"The ball hit me in the hands. I tipped it first and I was able to get it," Kevin said. "That really changed the momentum in the game. I think that took some of the wind out of their sails. Me and Pat (Williams) have been talking about having to set the tone, come up with the big play. We did that today. We do a tip drill every week and it paid off today, as you saw."
That play tied the team record with six interception returns for touchdowns on the season, and it also tied a record with 50 defensive points scored in a season.
But the Vikings' defensive tackles weren't done yet. In the third quarter, former Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill had replaced starter Trent Dilfer, who suffered a concussion. After leading the 49ers on their only touchdown drive of the day to open the second half, Hill dropped to pass on their next drive and had the ball slip out of his hand as he attempted another pass. It floated in the air and Pat Williams made the interception and not-so-spryly galloped a whole yard before being tackled.
"It just happened. The ball was there. I got it and took off," Pat said. "I got tripped up, but it got the defense off the field. We're all just having fun out there. Like I always tell you, all the guys are just trying to have fun out there. Everybody's on the same page."
The Vikings thought they had three interceptions by defensive tackles later in the game when Spencer Johnson grabbed another ball out of the air, but that one was ruled a fumble.
"That was really big today. Any time you can get a touchdown from your defense that gives the whole team a terrific lift," quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said. "Matter of fact, I have never heard before of any defensive line coming up with three interceptions in the same game. That was huge for us today. It was highly unusual to say the least. Kevin's touchdown was a huge blow to them. That had to be deflating."
The Vikings entered the game down four defensive linemen.
Defensive end Darrion Scott was placed on injured reserve after four games. Defensive tackle Fred Evans was suspended two games for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Defensive end Ray Edwards last week was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. And defensive end Erasmus James was placed on injured reserve last week with an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament.
With all that talent not on the field, the Vikings still had their deep reserves making contributions.
Rookie defensive tackle Conrad Bolston, who was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad on Nov. 28, forced a fumble that E.J. Henderson recovered. Second-year defensive end Otis Grigsby, who was signed off of Carolina's practice squad last week, registered a fourth-quarter sack of Hill and caused the fumbled that Johnson recovered.
Evans is eligible to return to practice on Monday, but Edwards won't be eligible to return until the playoffs, if the Vikings make them.
KICKOFF HIGHS AND LOWS
After a team-record 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week by rookie Aundrae Allison, the special teams might have had their worst performance of the season.
Allison only had one opportunity to return a kick on Sunday and made it a pedestrian 22-yard return. He downed one other kick about three yards into the end zone.
Bobby Wade fielded only one punt for a 6-yard return, and Mewelde Moore fair caught another two and let two of them go out of bounds.
But the real issue for the Vikings was when they were kicking off. San Francisco kick returner Maurice Hicks averaged 34 yards on four kickoff returns and put his team in Minnesota territory twice with 55-yard returns.
The Vikings had entered the game ranked third in the league by holding opponents to an average starting field position of the 24.5-yard line following kickoffs.
After those two long returns, Ryan Longwell gave the 49ers the ball at their own 40-yard line when he booted an ensuing kickoff out of bounds.
Their three faux pas on Sunday could drop them out of the top 10.
"The doctors went in and spoke with his family after they took a look at Trent and saw how he was and everything," 49ers head coach Mike Nolan said. "I did talk to him at halftime. He was a little woozy, but he was aware enough to kind of look. The only reason I went to him was to let him know his family was here. When it's all said and done, he'll see them I'm sure. "
"Well, it was exciting. It was a good play call and I had a lot of mental reps with the play during the week, and it unfolded completely different than I thought it would," Hill said. "I was really late and that's kind of what made him so open. The offensive line did a great job. Nobody was around me and Arnaz just stayed in that spot and made the catch. It was probably one of my worst reads of the game, to be quite honest with you. I should have hit Arnaz way sooner."