MINNEAPOLIS — Some of them smiled. Some of them laughed. Some of them — maybe all of them, if you were to shoot them full of truth serum — were impressed. The Packers had just witnessed the finale of the second-best rushing season in NFL history after all, even if it came at the expense of their 12th win, their bye week, their home field advantage.
Green Bay lost, 37-34, to the Vikings, thanks in no small part to Adrian Peterson, his 199 rushing yards and his two touchdowns. They lost because they let the running back race all over them, race through them and over them and around them, race his team into the playoffs. They let him race to 2,097 yards on the season, nine short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s 28-year-old record. The Packers stopped that, at least, the second significant piece of the Vikings’ final game, but you know they wish it had been the other way. The record over the loss, they’d have taken it willingly, of course.
The last time the Vikings and the Packers met, on Dec. 2, Peterson had 210 yards. The Packers couldn’t stop him then, and they failed to do so again four weeks later, though on Sunday, with a playoff bid on the line in Minnesota and a record in the back of everyone’s minds, Peterson and a Vikings win went hand-in-hand. The Packers couldn’t let him get away with the kind of days he’s had all season and escape Minnesota with a win, because for the Vikings, Sunday was all tied up in too much significance.
“He did another good job,” Morgan Burnett said. “He’s in my opinion one of the best, arguably one of the best to ever play the game. But that’s no excuse. We’ve got to go out there and try to shut him down. That’s a tough task. He did his job.”
The Packers weren’t quite somber on Sunday. They were upset, sure, but not quite despondent, disappointed but not quite down. They understood that the game was a like a playoff matchup for Minnesota and perhaps something slightly less for them, and they also understood that it was a once-in-a-generation talent who brought them down.
So they took a minute to marvel, maybe, at what they’d seen, absent the fact that they were marveling at their undoing. What Peterson did to the Packers rushing defense was downright cruel; Green Bay was allowing an average of 111.9 rushing yards going into Sunday, and it gave up 86 in the first quarter alone. Peterson, all by himself, ran for almost double that average, picking his way through holes and speeding around edges in a way that the Packers had planned for, of course, but still failed to stop.
“There’s a lot of runs that he was bottled up in the backfield, and he just got out,” Tramon Williams said. “Even when you think you’re right, a running back makes you wrong.”
The game came down to its final seconds, with the Vikings winning on an easy, 29-yard field goal as time expired. Peterson’s final explosion of the night, a 26-yard run, set up the whole thing, taking Blair Walsh’s kick from something of a question to a foregone conclusion of three solid points and the win. It was a football assist, if such a thing exists, with Peterson the final architect of the Packers’ failure.
And yet somehow they still lauded him postgame. Somehow Aaron Rodgers still marveled at his recovery from ACL repair surgery, still said he couldn’t help but to watch and be impressed. Still, the players whose job it was to stop him acknowledged how worthy he is of the MVP award, lamenting their inability to take him down in the same breath. They were still in the game, in its immediate aftermath, still looking at this Sunday and not the next, still letting themselves absorb without consequence or self-criticism.
Then there was B.J. Raji, though, perhaps the most demonstrative member of the Packers defense on Sunday. There was the hulking lump of B.J. Raji at his locker, perched like an angry Buddha and in no mood to revel in the one-man dismantling of his team. He acknowledged that Peterson is great — he wasn’t going to lie — but that was all. No speculation, no talk of the significance of the day or the marvel of the moment, not from Raji.
Will Peterson be the MVP, do you think? To that question, Raji’s teammates all bit, talking about how the running back very well could be. But not Raji, not the man who watched over and over as Peterson slipped away.
“Who knows,” Raji said. “I’m not concerned with that. Whoever gets it, they’ll deserve it. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
Raji had moved on. If he’d been impressed, he’d shelved it, and that’s what the Packers will do, Sunday evening, and Monday, and as the week builds toward next weekend’s rematch. They’ll all still admire Peterson, sure, but what he did will become a challenge, a threat, a pesky annoyance to be squashed.
Witnessing greatness, whether it’s for you or against you, warrants the praise that echoed through the Metrodome’s visitor’s locker room Sunday. But it only warrants it for a bit, especially when that greatness threatens to end a season next week rather than just alter it today.
“He… might have won the MVP today,” Rodgers said postgame, after a litany of praise.
But that’s today. That’s Sunday, Dec. 30. That’s a game that had no chance to doom the Packers, only to trip them up a bit. Rodgers wasn’t finished, not with that thought, and so he finished it.
“And hopefully we can win the playoff game next week.”