It may be late in the season for the Minnesota Vikings to be producing epics.
But with Adrian Peterson in the house, aroused and vectored in on overtaking all of the available records for running backs, you can throw out the laws of probability.
Stir in an otherworldly war of field goals in overtime. Add Matt Cassel at quarterback in midgame relief of the wounded Christian Ponder. And count it a 23-20 victory for the Vikings over the Chicago Bears Sunday before an emotionally drained and basically numb and baffled crowd at the Metrodome.
And then add a puzzling decision by the respected rookie coach of the Bears, Minnesota’s own Mark Trestman, to attempt a field goal from 47 yards out on second down with the score tied. The kick by Robbie Gould, normally a sure thing given Gould’s history, went wide right and with it one of the Bears’ best chances to overtake Detroit in the NFC’s North division playoff race.
Nowhere is it written that a National Football League team, struggling in the dregs of an ugly season, should be saddled with playing in overtime on consecutive Sundays, in defiance of all odds and laws of reason. That would be the Vikings.
Then carry the potential ignominy of the Vikings’ season a little deeper: Bring them back onto the field against the Bears after the Vikings’ apparent winning field goal by Blair Walsh earlier was canceled by a face mask penalty against their own Rhett Ellison.
Into all of this, stir the Viking defensive back Chris Cook’s ejection for pushing an official, and you have the bizarre lead-in to the game’s climactic moments.
Reprieved and relieved
The Vikings were reprieved when Gould missed his field goal attempt from 47 yards out. Relieved, they mounted their own offensive behind Peterson and Cassel; and when they got close enough at 34 yards out, once more they summoned Walsh, who lofted the winning field goal.
The Bears, hurting with the injury absence of quarterback Jay Cutler, had rallied early in the game behind Josh McCown. But the Vikings roared back, whipped up by Peterson’s man-from-Mars running and his will to suck every inch, foot and yard in his runs from scrimmage. When it was over, he had run for 211 yards.
Add a steady hand on the throttle by Cassel, who was rushed into the action when Ponder was sidelined after taking a hit that caused symptoms of a concussion.
Yet, at the finish, it was Walsh again, lifted within easy field-goal range by the relentless running of Peterson, a staunch Viking offensive line and Cassel’s quarterbacking in the final minutes. If Walsh missed, the game very likely would have run its course and left the Vikings with a second straight tie after the Green Bay one last week — which would have blown apart all of the existing laws of probability and sensible living.
When it was over Sunday, a grateful and deeply stirred Leslie Frazier expressed his gratitude and respect for a team willing to deliver maximum effort, despite what even its most charitable witnesses would call a lost season.
Frazier praised his team’s resilience and its refusal to give up on itself. He praised Cassel’s professionalism and offered a genuine expression of awe for Peterson’s willingness — in fact, his insistence — on putting the team on his shoulders.
“He did all that still bothered by his groin injury,” Frazier said. “We had Toby Gerhart ready to go in and take some of the pressure off Adrian. But he insisted on playing. I can’t say enough about what he means to this team,” meaning not only in his ambition to become the greatest running back in the history of pro football but also in how he inspires his teammates.
Is that a wild and self-centered dream — becoming the all-time, greatest running back in pro football history?
Not so today, if you scan the history of the National Football League.
Peterson tops 10,000 yards
Peterson gained 211 yards in 35 carries Sunday to pass the 10,000-yard mark in his pro football career, which is still at its peak. Only two other runners in the nearly 100-year history of the National Football League, Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown, have reached 10,000 yards quicker. Dickerson did it in 91 games, Brown in 98, Peterson in 101 games.
It wasn’t only the yardage Peterson rolled up that stirred the crowd and the big television audience. The threat he posed kept the Bears’ defense in constant turmoil employing the so-called eight in the box. It was the uncompromising drive and the almost frenzied will with which Peterson attacked the Bears’ defense and stirred his teammates. It was his refusal to go down when the gang-tackling came. It was his pugnacity in digging for extra yardage, in defying what amounted to a small regiment of tacklers the Bears launched on him once he cleared the line of scrimmage.
And Cassel’s performance? The biggest plus was a Vikings Win. He completed 20 passes in 33 attempts for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception
But in the end, ironically, it came down to the field goals.
Gould had opened the scoring in the first half with a 30-yard field goal. But the Vikings turned clever, installing their runback ace and part-time receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson, in the backfield for a 33-yard touchdown run and a 7-3 Viking lead.
The Bears’ offense moved surprising well in the absence of Cutler, including an 80-yard touchdown bomb from McCown to Alshon Jeffery. After Walsh’s first field goal from 32 yards, Cassel hit Greg Jennings with an 8-yard touchdown pass, and it was all Walsh, Cassel and Peterson for the Vikings offense from there while Chad Greenway, broken hand and all, led the Vikings defense to the finish.
Four games to go
So the Vikings now head into their final four games, beginning Sunday at Baltimore. After that, they face Philadelphia, Cincinnati and the Detroit Lions, who are now the favorite to win the division with both Green Bay and Chicago reeling with injuries to their starting quarterbacks.
Does that open the door for the Vikings? Hardly. They now stand at 3-8-1.
Does it solve the Vikings’ quarterback merry-go-round? Temporarily, yes. Ponder played briefly Sunday and must now be evaluated for concussion. The mysterious Josh Freeman was in non-combat dress Sunday at the stadium.
Cassel, the holder of two of the Viking victories, played well Sunday and presumably will be there against the still-contending — and defending — Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. So will Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are not going to the playoffs. But in their locker room Sunday, nobody talked much about that. Sometimes simply winning is reality enough.