MINNEAPOLIS – Adrian Peterson's first carry of the afternoon was unremarkable in style, a simple 4-yard gain after a stutter step at the line of scrimmage.
But the Minnesota crowd realized the significance and cheered Peterson almost as loudly as when he sprinted out of the tunnel during the pregame introduction. The Vikings star returned without any trouble, rewarding his team's trust in his repaired left knee with a typical two-touchdown performance.
Rookie Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation ended and another in overtime, and Peterson returned a little more than eight months after reconstructive surgery to lift the Vikings to a 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Fittingly, Peterson was more upset about the hole he missed on his first run than relieved his first real rushing attempt ended without harm.
"I just went out and played. I knew the structure of the ligament was good," said Peterson, who finished with 84 yards on 17 attempts about 8½ months after tearing his ACL. His runs of 10 and 20 yards set up Walsh's 38-yard kick after the Vikings won the overtime coin toss.
Blaine Gabbert's 39-yard touchdown and 2-point conversion passes with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Jaguars a 23-20 lead, sending a stunned silence over the crowd after the Vikings led for most of the second half.
"I thought he took a step forward today, because this is a tough place to play," said new coach Mike Mularkey.
But in overtime when the Jaguars had their chance to match — the first time under the NFL rule installed last year that the first team to score didn't immediately run off the field a winner — Gabbert was hurried into a fourth-down overthrow. After calmly completing a bundle of clutch passes earlier in the game, Gabbert misfired on all three of his throws on the final drive.
Coming off the worst passer rating in the league in his rookie year, Gabbert was much better, going 23 for 39 for 260 yards and two scores without an interception. But he dropped a snap in the third quarter that was recovered at the Jaguars 44 to set up Peterson's second touchdown run.
"The players are too talented in this league to kind of take a breath," Gabbert said. "So you've just got to fight through that."
Peterson's Superman-like leap over the line from 2 yards out gave the Vikings a 14-9 lead he celebrated with a somersault up from the turf. His first score helped wipe out a bad first half for the home team, bringing the Vikings within 9-7 with 41 seconds left.
This from a guy the Vikings refused to grant clearance, at least publicly, until the morning of the game.
"Knowing his mindset, if coach Frazier would've said no, I think he probably would've still dressed up and played," said quarterback Christian Ponder, who finished 20 for 27 for 270 yards and no interceptions, though he lost a fumble in the third quarter that led to one of Josh Scobee's three field goals.
Lost a little in the hubbub over Peterson's return was the fact that Maurice Jones-Drew was in the backfield for the Jaguars, too, one week after ending his contract-related holdout. After starter Rashad Jennings hurt his knee, Jones-Drew wound up with 77 yards on 19 carries.
"It was good to be out there, standing with them, be out on the pass game, block a little, get hit," said Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher last season. "I just want to continue to improve, understand the offense more so Blaine doesn't have to tell me where to go half the time."
Peterson was feeling the same way on the other end of the hall, except he went home with a victory to savor as well.
"The boost that he gave us, and our fans' reaction when he was introduced, was outstanding and lifted our players," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's special, without question."
NOTES: Peterson passed Robert Smith to move into first place on Minnesota's all-time rushing list, with 6,836 yards in his 74th career game. The Vikings showed a videotaped congratulatory message from Smith, who played eight seasons for the Vikings, on the scoreboard. ... Vikings rookie LT Matt Kalil blocked Scobee's extra point in the second quarter. Kalil said he blocked seven kicks in his college career at USC. ... Jennings had 31 yards on eight carries. Mularkey said his injury wasn't serious. But RG Uche Nwaneri, LG Eben Britton and backup OL Cameron Bradfield all left the game with unspecified leg injuries. Nwaneri, bothered by ankle injury earlier in the week, had to be helped off the field in the first half. "Rarely do you lose as many linemen as we did," Mularkey said. ... The Vikings are 4-1 all-time vs. the Jaguars, losing here in 2001.
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