Minnesota showed it can win without Adrian Peterson turning in super-human numbers.
By BRIAN HALL FS North
Minnesota Vikings knew the doubts existed outside the organization into Sundays' game at Houston.
Minnesota, hanging on to the playoffs, was on the road against the
Texans, who had a chance to clinch home-field advantage in the AFC. The Vikings' road troubles were well-documented. So after Sunday's convincing 23-6 win, several players took to Twitter after the big game. Perhaps none summarized the thoughts better than Jerome Felton.
"Vikes vikes vikes!!!! Silence the doubters and keep it Rollin!!!!!," Felton tweeted after Sunday's win.
Indeed, Sunday was the type of game that could silence any of those doubters with Minnesota (9-6) playing its most impressive game since the 2009 season.
Here's five things we learned from the Vikings' dominating win Sunday:
1. Minnesota is doing its part to control the playoff outcomes.
Three weeks ago, following two straight disappointing losses on the road at Chicago and Green Bay, the Vikings understood their path to the playoffs likely revolved around winning the final four games. A stretch of four losses in five games had appeared to spoil Minnesota's 4-1 start and the Vikings no longer controlled their own playoff destiny. Winning out didn't even clinch a playoff berth.
But Minnesota has done what it has needed, and what few thought likely, in winning three straight games, including two on the road. With the New York Giants loss Sunday afternoon, the Vikings suddenly control their own destiny again and will be in the playoffs with a win at home against the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay (11-4) is vying for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and possible first-round bye and a home game in the playoffs. Nothing is guaranteed for the Vikings back at home against the Packers, but another showing like Sunday will give Minnesota a chance to win-out like they had discussed. And don't forget, the Vikings gave the Packers a scare in Green Bay earlier this year before costly turnovers.
2. Dickerson might be breathing a bit easier.
Adrian Peterson entered Sunday needing 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards and has said Dickerson should be nervous about his record falling. Peterson then went 20 yards on Minnesota's first play, but Houston's fifth-ranked run defense (heading into Sunday) was focused on stopping Peterson and did as well as anyone in the second half of the season. Peterson finished with 25 carries for 86 yards, the first time in nine games he was held under 100. Peterson broke free for three runs of 20 yards or more, but was held to zero or negative yards on 14 carries.
Peterson is left with 102 yards to become the seventh player in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards in a single season and is 208 yards away from breaking Dickerson's record with his league-leading 1,898 yards. Those are lofty totals in one game, even for Peterson. And Dickerson might be breathing a little easier now, but Peterson had more than 208 yards in two of the three games before Sunday, including 210 against next week's opponent, Green Bay, in the first matchup between the two teams.
3. The offense doesn't have to be all Peterson after all.
Peterson has carried Minnesota's offense in the second half of the season, rushing for more yards over the past eight games than the Vikings had passed for. But with Houston clamping down on the league's leading rusher, Minnesota had to put the ball into the hands of quarterback Christian Ponder, which would have been a scary proposition with the way Ponder has played the last two months. But Ponder was up to the challenge on Sunday, playing his best game since the Oct. 11 win against Detroit. Ponder got into an early rhythm again with quick passes using play-action and bootlegs to get outside and find his receivers. Ponder was also more confident, stepping up in the pocket more than he had in recent games.
Ponder finished 16 of 30 for 174 yards and a touchdown and kept the offense moving, converting several third downs (Minnesota was 9 of 18 on third downs). Ponder didn't throw an interception, but did have a fumble on a sack. But Minnesota's defense stood strong after the fumble and held Houston without points on the drive. Ponder found six different receivers and had two big scrambles for first downs, finishing with seven runs for 48 yards. Rookie
Jarius Wright caught five passes.
Kyle Rudolph had three catches and his ninth touchdown of the season. Jerome Simpson had four catches, including a big catch on third down in the fourth quarter, doing a good job keeping his feet inbounds. With Peterson on the sideline late in the fourth quarter, Toby Gerhart added a touchdown run and had eight carries for 31 yards.
4. The defense is ready to rise to the occasion.
Houston entered Sunday with the league's sixth-ranked offense, had the fifth-ranked running game with
Arian Foster and also had Andre Johnson ranking among the league's top receivers. Minnesota's defense played physical, shut down the Foster and the running game and overwhelmed Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. The Vikings' defense held a team to less than seven points for the first time since Jan. 17, 2010, a divisional playoff win against Dallas.
Minnesota recovered two Houston fumbles (and ran its record to 9-0 when finishing even or better in turnover-differential) and had four sacks. Foster, fourth in the league in rushing heading intot he week, was held to 15 yards on 10 carries. Backup Ben Tate, who came in late after Foster was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, had 17 yards on four carries, but 13 came on one carry. Houston averaged 2.1 yards per carry and had 34 rushing yards as a team. The Vikings looked like the physical defense it was earlier in the season. And after Johnson had a strong start, Minnesota's defensive backs held him fairly in check with seven catches for 97 yards. The rest of the team had 11 catches for 81 yards. The Vikings' defense will need a similar effort against the Packers next week.
5. Blair Walsh is having best season ever for a Vikings kicker, in his first one.
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh is not only having perhaps the best season by a rookie kicker, he might be having the best single season of a kicker in Vikings' history. Walsh, Minnesota's surprise selection in the sixth round of the draft, has thrilled regularly this season, and he set an NFL record Sunday with nine field goals this season of 50 yards or more. Walsh is 9 of 9 from 50 and beyond this season.
Walsh tied the Vikings' all-time record with a 56-yard field goal Sunday, tying the mark Paul Edinger set in 2005. Walsh now has 128 points this season, third in Vikings' history for a single season behind Gary Anderson's record 164 (1998), and 132 points done three times (Ryan Longwell in 2009, Fuad Reveiz in 1994 and Chuck Foreman in 1975). Walsh is now 32 of 35 (91.4 percent). His 32 made are third in Vikings' history. The 91.4 percent is fifth in team history. He already has established a team record with 49 touchbacks this season. And Walsh has one more game remaining, coming in the Metrodome.