Yes, the Vikings are relevant again. They clinched the final NFC playoff spot Sunday by beating Green Bay 37-34 before 64,134 fans in one of the most electric, pressure-packed Viking games in franchise history.
The great Adrian Peterson’s remarkable, incredible return from knee surgery fueled the Vikings’ return to the playoffs. Peterson came up just nine yards short (at 2,097) of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record of 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
If you witnessed this game Sunday, you saw one of the greatest games in NFL history. The Vikings had to beat the Packers, the NFC North champions, to earn the final NFC playoff spot. Sunday’s game had more subplots than an Alfred Hitchcock film. Much was at stake. The Packers had won 12 straight NFC North games; they needed a win and a 49ers loss to Arizona to clinch the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, which carries a first-round bye.
The Vikings, winners of three straight, knew at kickoff that Chicago had already beaten Detroit 26-24, and only a win over the Packers would get them a playoff spot. Peterson started the day with 1,898 yards, needing 208 more to break the record.
Tickets were tough and expensive to get — this was one of those special times in sports where being at the Metrodome was the place to be, because you would see what greatness is all about.
Aaron Rogers threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns, and Peterson ran for 199 yards on 34 carries, scoring two touchdowns. He gave every single ounce of effort and determination to help will his team, the Vikings, to victory and get the record. His final run of 26 yards to the Packers’ 11-yard line with just seconds left in a tie game gave the Vikings a first and goal with three seconds left.
The game was tied 34-34 it set up the game-winning field goal of 29 yards by Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh: Vikings win and clinch a playoff spot and a rematch with Green Bay Saturday in prime time at Lambeau Field.
Peterson needed nine more yards to break the record. “I know Eric Dickerson is feeling so good right now,” Peterson said, “but God willing, I’ll get it next year.” What Peterson did achieve Sunday was to become the seventh member of the exclusive 2,000-yard club.
Peterson Sunday ran past six players on the all-time list in one game — Earl Campbell (1,934), O.J Simpson (2,003), Chris Johnson (2,006), Terrell Davis (2,008), Barry Sanders (2,053), and Jamal Lewis (2,066). Peterson, however, holds the greatest single-season rushing mark in NFL history since 1984 — that’s 28 years, three decades of one century.
Peterson also made it into the exclusive 6.0-average-per-carry club over an entire season with a minimum 250 carries, joining Jamal Charles (6.4 in 2010), Jim Brown (6.4 in 1963), O.J. Simpson (6.0 in 1973), and Barry Sanders (6.1 in 1997). Peterson averaged 6.0 per carry in 2012.
“I don’t let awards identify me,” Peterson said. “I don’t do it. I go out and define myself by what I do on the field. Whether I win it (MVP) or not — and I’m not saying I don’t want to, just like I wanted to break the record — either way, in my heart I’m the MVP. That’s all that matters.”
When you consider that the Vikings had the 32nd-ranked passing offense in the NFL, Peterson is clearly the NFL’s MVP. He defines “most valuable.” He led this team to four straight wins in December, two on the road and two over playoff teams.
Last year the Vikings were 3-13, a last-place team. This year they are 10-6 with wins over San Francisco, Houston and Green Bay, three Division champions, and 4-1 in December.
Peyton Manning led Denver to a 13-3 record, and he is a previous four-time MVP. I believe at worst he could share the MVP with Peterson. Manning missed all last season with neck and back surgery, was released by Indianapolis, and likely will get the Most Improved Player award. Denver made the playoffs last season with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
Peterson, in my book, is the NFL’s Most Valuable Player this season. He just had one of the greatest seasons I’ve witnessed in 35 years of covering the NFL. It’s time to break up the quarterback-only MVP bias. Peterson is a great football player, one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.