Published November 20, 2014
Adrian Peterson came up just short in achieving his goal. His team did not.
The superstar running back fell nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's NFL record for most rushing yards in a season, but still put up 199 on a career-best 34 carries while scoring two touchdowns to help the Minnesota Vikings earn a berth in the NFC Playoffs with a thrilling 37-34 last-second victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Peterson's final rush -- a 26-yard burst to the Green Bay 11 with three seconds remaining -- set up Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal that snapped a 34-34 deadlock and earned Minnesota (10-6) the conference's No. 6 playoff seed after closing out the regular season with four straight wins.
Walsh's kick also forced a rematch between the two NFC North rivals in next week's Wild Card Round, with Green Bay (11-5) denied a chance to claim the No. 2 seed and an opening-round bye after San Francisco defeated Arizona on Sunday.
The teams will square off again Saturday at 8 p.m. (et), with the Packers serving as the host this time.
Exactly one year to the day of his surgery to repair a potentially career- threatening knee injury, Peterson finished his remarkable 2012 campaign with 2,097 rushing yards to become the seventh player in league history to surpass the 2,000-yard barrier.
"It's a bittersweet feeling inside," said Peterson of just missing Dickerson's standard of 2,105 yards. "The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that I was nine yards short was, 'It is what it is. It wasn't meant to happen.' Not to say it doesn't hurt, because it does.
"Ultimately we came in here tonight and accomplished the ultimate goal of getting a win and taking our team into the playoffs."
Christian Ponder aided Minnesota's cause by matching a personal best with three touchdown passes, including one to Peterson, while going an efficient 16-of-28 for 234 yards without a turnover. Jarius Wright finished with 90 receiving yards and a score on three catches for a Vikings squad that will reach the playoffs just one year removed from a 3-13 season.
Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns while amassing 365 yards on 28-of-40 passing for Green Bay, leading the Packers out of a 13-point first-half hole to tie the game twice in the fourth quarter. Greg Jennings hauled in two of Rodgers' scoring strikes while recording 120 yards on eight grabs.
"It's disappointing. A lot of us wanted that extra week," said Rodgers. "We played tough and came back from behind. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We played a team who was desperate. They had an MVP-caliber player running the ball real well on that side. We made some plays down the stretch to get back in it, but they eventually took it from us."
The Packers trailed 20-7 late in the first half, but fought back to knot the contest at 27-27 on a Mason Crosby 40-yard field goal with 12:21 left in the game, kicking off a wild fourth quarter in which each team would put together two scoring drives.
Minnesota would move back ahead on the ensuing series, which began with a Ponder deep ball to Wright that resulted in a 65-yard gain to the Green Bay 14. The Packers appeared to have had the Vikings stopped after Toby Gerhart was tackled short of a first down at the seven, but an illegal use of hands penalty on Tramon Williams gave Minnesota another set of chances.
The Vikings would capitalize, as Michael Jenkins came up with Ponder's pass thrown into a crowd for a 3-yard touchdown and a 34-27 edge with 7:54 to go.
Green Bay responded with an 11-play, 78-yard series in which Rodgers made good on 7-of-8 pass attempts, including a 7-yard delivery to Jarrett Boykin in a 4th-and-1 situation. His final throw of the possession, a back-shoulder delivery to Jordy Nelson from the Minnesota two, drew the Packers back even with 2:54 left.
The Vikings faced a 3rd-and-11 on their next touch, but Ponder came through with a 25-yard connection with Jenkins near midfield to move the chains. Two Peterson runs produced another first down, and the MVP candidate then broke containment before being brought down at the 11-yard line after a gain of 26.
"I had a great block," said Peterson of the play. "The offensive line did a tremendous job. It's kind of funny, because we called that play a couple of times and I bounced it back and didn't trust it. In the right time, I trusted it and was able to get a big play."
Minnesota called timeout with three seconds left, and Walsh came on to knock home the game-winner just inside the left goal post.
The Vikings demonstrated a sense of urgency right from the start, thoroughly dominating the first quarter and building a 13-0 lead early in the second. Minnesota outgained the Packers by a 135-11 margin in total yards over the opening 15 minutes, while limiting the NFC North champs without a first down on a pair of drives.
Walsh accounted for the Vikings' first points by drilling a 54-yard field goal on the game's initial series, a kick set up by Ponder's 8-yard scramble on 3rd-and-long. Following a Green Bay three-and-out, Minnesota marched 60 yards in seven plays to extend its advantage to double digits.
Ponder found Gerhart for a 21-yard gain on 3rd-and-11 to keep the drive alive, and Peterson broke off a 22-yard run deep in Green Bay territory later on before capping the sequence by powering across the goal line from seven yards out with 5:44 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings started with excellent field position on their next touch after again getting a quick stop, and Peterson's 6-yard burst on 4th-and-1 and a key 10-yard catch by Kyle Rudolph led to Walsh successfully making a 37-yard field goal for a 13-0 score nine seconds into the second quarter.
Green Bay's offense finally sprung to life afterward, with Rodgers engineering two scoring drives before the half to get his team back in contention.
A methodical 12-play, 42-yard jaunt that followed a 32-yard Jeremy Ross punt return was capped when the reigning league MVP and Jennings hooked up on a 3- yard score to put the Packers on the board, though Minnesota answered by moving 60 yards in seven snaps to reach the end zone once more on Ponder's 8- yard toss to Wright that pushed the lead to 20-7 with just 1:07 remaining before intermission.
That was still enough time for Rodgers, who connected on three passes -- two to Jermichael Finley that totaled 30 yards -- to place Green Bay in position for a Mason Crosby 51-yard field goal as time expired that cut the deficit to 10 at the break.
The Packers kept on rolling out of the locker room, with a 30-yard catch-and- run by James Jones and a 45-yard strike to Jennings bringing the team inside the Minnesota 10 before Rodgers hit a wide-open Jennings from five yards out to pull Green Bay within 20-17.
"It took us a little while with the crowd noise, that usually happens up here," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. "This is a tough place to play, no doubt. We anticipated this being the loudest environment of the year. They pumped it in there pretty good today, it was very loud. I thought after that we played very well."
Minnesota's defense did deliver a big play on the Packers' next possession, however, with Brian Robison jarring the ball loose from Rodgers on a sack and Jared Allen recovering at midfield.
Peterson got loose for a 28-yard run to the Green Bay seven shortly afterward, and following a costly holding call on Packers safety Jerron McMillian that negated a 3rd-down incompletion, Peterson was left open in the end zone as Ponder rolled out from the 2-yard line and hit him in stride to once again make it a 10-point game.
The Packers matched the score less than two minutes later. Nelson got past the secondary to snare Rodgers' long pass for a 73-yard gain to the Packers' eight, and Jones came through with an 8-yard TD catch on the next play to cut the lead to 27-24 late in the third quarter.
Minnesota was then held without a first down on its next trip, and Green Bay obtained good field position on the ensuing punt before moving into range for Crosby's tying kick.
The loss snapped Green Bay's 12-game winning streak against NFC North opponents, tied for the longest by any team within divisional play since the NFL realigned in 2002 ... The Packers also had a string of nine consecutive victories in regular-season finales come to a close ... Walsh finished his outstanding rookie campaign a perfect 10-for-10 on field goal tries from 50 yards or beyond ... Green Bay leading receiver Randall Cobb was inactive for the contest due to an ankle injury he sustained in the team's previous game ... Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield, playing with a broken hand, did not return to the game for the second half ... Nelson had 87 yards on three catches in his return from a three-game absence due to a hamstring strain.