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Adrian Peterson, ‘ordinary’ at the start, revved up his running — and Vikings

REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
After Adrian Peterson's 212 yards in 24 carries that included another run of 52 yards — the Vikings are very much alive in the chase for the NFL playoffs wild card with two games remaining.

On the first few series of Sunday’s game, Adrian Peterson looked ordinary, which for the St. Louis Rams turned out to be the worst news of the day.

For the Vikings’ television-watching hordes back home, his first few unproductive carries felt like a violation of the laws of nature. The Vikings needed more than that to stay in the fight for the NFL playoffs.

But it was just a matter of time, and that time came with the score tied 7-7 early in the second quarter: With the St. Louis goal line 82 yards away, Adrian Peterson attacked the congested free-for-all on the line of scrimmage with its straining and grunting bodies fighting for leverage.  His instincts told him to veer right. And suddenly there was daylight, and he bolted free.

Now in space, he lengthened his stride. The team’s downfield receivers threw blocks and the chase was on. But it really wasn’t that much of a contest. Adrian Peterson running free and on a mission makes most defenders suspect that he spent time on another planet. He was now running full bore toward the end zone with enough time to take the craftman’s delight in glancing at the big overhead screen to mark his progress. He had to admire the view.

It didn’t matter if he could spot a big No. 94 chasing him, his nearest pursuer. The Ram player was Robert Quinn, a defensive end. No 250-pound lineman was going to overtake Adrian Peterson in full gallop. Crossing the goal line, he swung into his traditional high step in celebration.

And today after their 36-22 victory in St. Louis — and after Peterson’s 212 yards in 24 carries that included  another run of 52 yards — the Vikings are very much alive in the chase for the NFL playoffs wild card with two games remaining.

The tempering news there is that their next game is at Houston, which has clinched the title in the American Conference’s South Division. The last game is at the Metrodome at high noon on Dec. 30 against — are you ready? — Green Bay, which Sunday earned the title in the Vikings’ North Division by beating the Chicago Bears.

Vikes in playoff hunt

So how about some drama to preface the new year? That can happen, first, if the Vikings beat Houston, which will have every incentive to play hard. After its victory over Indianapolis Sunday, Houston can clinch the No.1 seed in the American Football Conference next Sunday, meaning a bye in the playoffs’ first week and home field the rest of the way. And, according to the reliable number-crunchers at ESPN and  Playoff Machine, the Vikings could still make it to the playoffs if they lost at Houston.

Do you know how wild this gets? That would happen if the Vikings then defeat Green Bay and   the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys both lose in week 17. Don’t ask why that is. Believe. You want simple? The Vikings win their last two games and the Giants and Cowboys each lose one more game.

But you want a few days to savor Adrian Peterson and Sunday in St. Louis. That’s eight games in a row that he has run for more than 100 yards, staying in the hunt to break the all-time single-season rushing record

Being a great running back takes nerve, speed and power and a willingness to absorb pain. But there are times when it also becomes an art, and here is a running back who lacks none of these.

But it’s almost breathtaking to see where Adrian Peterson stands today, one year after a leg injury that could have ended his career. It was the fourth time he has run for more than 200 yards in a game, and he is now 294 yards short of breaking the career record of 2,105 yards set by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. It means he will have to average close to 150 yards in each of the Vikings’ last two games.

In St. Louis Sunday, they still had almost three quarters to play after Peterson’s touchdown run but  the outlook was fundamentally bleak for the Rams the rest of the way, although they played with grit and were still in the battle  in the final few minutes. If they scored late and then recovered an onside kick, they were still alive. But none of that happened against a Viking defense that made life suspenseful all day for quarterback Sam Bradford.

Big game for Walsh, too

It was hardly a solo show. It might have been impossible to match Peterson’s 212 yards, but the rookie field-goal kicker, Blair Walsh, came close. How about five field goals? How about three of them 50 yards.and over?

Count the ways. 50 yards in the second quarter to stretch the Viking lead in the first half to 17-7. Then 53 yards in the third quarter when the mid-game rout began, and 51 yards late in the game when the Rams were trying to mount a comeback.

The St. Louis strategy was to hold Peterson to reasonable yardage and to force the troubled young Christian Ponder to beat them. But the young quarterback played wisely, hit 17 of 24 passes, avoided interceptions, ran 5 yards for the Vikings’ opening touchdown and, in general, stayed within his limits.

The Viking defense, meanwhile, crowded Bradford after  his 4 yard touchdown pass to Brian Quick tied the score at 7-7 early. Peterson, Walsh and Everson Griffen’s touchdown interception eventually lifted the Viking lead to 30-7 by the end of the half and then 33-14 before Bradford’s two fourth-quarter touchdown passes made it 33-22.

The Rams engineered some suspense late in the game, but that big early lead and an aggressive Viking defense, goaded by Jared Allen and Chad Greenway, kept the Vikings out of serious trouble in the closing minutes.

When it was over, Peterson savored the day, not only in gratitude for the Vikings’ win and his performance but also with genuine joy for a season that is still significant for the Vikings and the camaraderie it has produced. He praised the rarely celebrated fullback Jerome Felton for his   blocking on some of his longest runs; Christian Ponder for his steadiness and his pass receivers for their open-field blocking when he broke loose.

How much did his yardage totals matter to him? His answers were not those of a jock egomaniac. He was a football player, devoted to excellence and the joy of competing. The statistics measured that drive. “They mean a lot,” he said. “I want to be great.” But it was also about team, he said. And what else?

 The Rams were ready for him and the Vikings, he said. The Rams talked a lot at the line of scrimmage. So Adrian joined them. “I talked a little trash.” He laughed — and then said: “We kept pounding. The guys were physical. We were ready.”

Including Adrian Peterson. Whatever the next two weeks hold, you can pretty well put that in the bank.

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