Adrian Peterson continues his MVP push in St. Louis as the Minnesota Vikings face another must-win situation.
The star running back will also resume his chase toward 2,000 rushing yards while attempting to keep a flawed Vikings team in the NFC playoff race against a Rams club, which also has a faint pulse in the hunt for the postseason.
It would be no surprise if Peterson's back was acting up since the All-Pro has been carrying Minnesota this season. A.P. has rushed for 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.04 yards per carry so far, becoming just the third player in NFL history to rush for at least 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.0-plus yards per carry in his team's first 13 games. The others to accomplish the feat were Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1963) and O.J. Simpson (1973).
Peterson had a pair of first- quarter touchdowns last Sunday as the Vikings handed the Chicago Bears a 21-14 loss at Mall of America Field last Sunday. He finished the game with 154 yards on 31 carries, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
His quarterback, Christian Ponder, was just 11-for-17 with 91 yards with an interception for the Vikings, who kept their slim postseason hopes alive by snapping a two-game losing streak.
It was the fifth game this season Ponder had failed to throw for 150 yards, an almost unthinkable feat in this pass-happy era. Peterson, in fact, outgained Ponder's passing stats in the first quarter alone with 104 yards, a career- high for him in an opening frame.
"So very proud of this football team because all three phases played very well," said Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier. "This game just epitomized what a team win is really all about. The way everyone prepared for today makes me very proud."
The Rams, meanwhile, kept the good times rolling in Orchard Park last Sunday when Brandon Gibson's 13-yard touchdown catch with 48 seconds remaining lifted St. Louis over the Buffalo Bills, 15-12.
Gibson ended with six catches for 100 yards for the Rams, who have won three in a row for the first time since 2006 and remain in the wild-card playoff hunt.
Sam Bradford completed 19-of-39 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown and an interception for St. Louis, which scored all 15 of its points in the second half. Steven Jackson carried the ball 19 times for 64 yards and a score for the victors.
"The offensive guys came alive on the last drive and made plays," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
Minnesota leads the all-time series 18-14-2 and has won two of the past three, including the most recent, a 38-10 rout at St. Louis in 2009 when Peterson ran for two TDs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This game figures to pit strength versus strength. The Vikings' formula for success is to get an early lead behind Peterson and hide the overmatched Ponder.
Peterson is in the midst of a a career-best string of seven consecutive 100-yard games, averaging 157.3 ypg over that span with eight TDs. The All-Pro also averages more per rush (6.0) than Ponder does per passing attempt (5.98), an almost unheard of metric.
Ponder's shaky decision-making and poor mechanics have translated into a 78.3 passer rating, the worst among all NFC starters. The second-year pro has failed to throw for even 100 yards on three different occasions this season.
"Learning to be more patient in the pocket is big," Ponder said when talking about his nasty habit of sliding out of the pocket instead of stepping up. "That's something I have to continue to work on and not so much when I do move in the pocket, not to move out, but to find ways to find a different lane in the pocket to throw through and different things like that, but staying in the cylinder rather than getting out of the pocket."
Minnesota simply can't play from behind because of Ponder's inability to get the ball downfield.
"We're playing to our strengths," Frazier said. "That doesn't mean that we can't open it up and throw the football, but when you have the best running back in the National Football League in your backfield, I just don't know if you want to revolve around a passing game. Our offense is going to revolve around number 28 and there is no secret to that."
The Rams have not allowed an opposing running back to gain more than 65 yards in four straight games and are second in the league in sacks.
Offensively St. Louis' 324.3 yards per game is 25th in the NFL and its average of 18.2 points is even worse at No. 29. In fact, Bradford and Co. have scored just four offensive TDs during the team's current three-game run.
"At the end of the day a win's a win," Fisher said. "We're not equipped like New England to put 40 up on everybody. Hopefully we'll get to that point, but right now we're finding ways to win."
Neither offense has consistent big-play ability so this figures to be a tight affair that comes down to the NFL's two best rookie kickers, St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein and Minnesota's Blair Walsh.
Both have monster legs but Walsh has been a tad more consistent than "Legatron" so give a slight edge to the Vikings.
"We have to win this game," Frazier said. "If we don't win this game, it just puts us in peril. I've tried to bring the focus to that without ignoring the fact that we're in a playoff race. Every game for us at this point of the season is like a playoff game. No game is bigger than this St. Louis game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 17, Rams 14