Vikings batter Eli and the Giants, clinch playoff spot
The Minnesota Vikings didn't get the help they needed in the afternoon to secure their place in the postseason, so they ventured outside in the cold and took care of it themselves with a resounding victory.
In the playoffs for the first time in three years, they're playing as if they're poised for more than a token appearance.
Adrian Peterson ran for 104 yards and a touchdown over three quarters, Harrison Smith took one of Eli Manning's three interceptions into the end zone and the Vikings clinched at least a wild-card spot with a 49-17 victory over the listless New York Giants on a frigid Sunday night.
"We like to handle business ourselves. We know we right our own ship," said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who picked off Manning's pass midway through the third quarter to set up Peterson's score that made it 29-3.
Teddy Bridgewater turned in another sharp December performance, Blair Walsh chipped in five field goals and the Vikings (10-5) set up an NFC North championship game next week at Green Bay. That game, like this one, was moved to the Sunday night slot.
"I think we're playing with confidence right now. I think our guys feel good about the things that we're doing, and I think they believe," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "Half the battle is believing."
With Peterson trying to stay warm on the sideline, Jerick McKinnon rushed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 68-yard romp through a disinterested defense with the temperature down to 11 degrees.
Manning badly missed suspended wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns, as the Giants (6-9) trudged toward a fourth straight absence from the postseason. Manning dismissed the notion that Beckham's suspension hung over the team this week.
"We just didn't play well," Manning said, "and they did."
Washington's win over Philadelphia on Saturday night ended the NFC East race, rendering the outcome meaningless for the Giants. After winning the Super Bowl following the 2011 season, the Giants have gone just 28-35. They are 12-19 in the last two years.
"We had an opportunity to play for pride and to regain some respect, and I thought everybody was on the same page. Tonight is just very difficult for me to explain," said coach Tom Coughlin, whose future with the team he has run since 2004 was made even murkier by this mess of a game.
Manning finished 15 for 29 for 234 yards, boosted by a 50-yard pass to Rashad Jennings that set up an early field goal and a 72-yard touchdown heave to Randle made possible by a botched tackle by Andrew Sendejo, who had the first interception. Manning, sacked four times, was hindered by a handful of drops by his receivers in these tough-to-catch conditions. He fumbled a shotgun snap, too.
Bridgewater looked every bit the seasoned quarterback, finishing 15 for 25 for 168 yards and a touchdown to Kyle Rudolph while delivering precise, under-pressure passes at just the right times and avoiding the turnovers that dogged Manning and the Giants.
The Vikings reached the playoffs for the first time in three years with their highest score since a 50-10 victory over Jacksonville on Dec. 20, 1998, giving them an 87-34 margin of victory over the last two weeks. Smith, linebacker Anthony Barr and nose tackle Linval Joseph all returned from injuries, putting the Vikings back at full strength on defense heading into the rematch with the Packers.
"It's just one of those opportunities again for us to go out and hopefully prove it to the world that we belong," defensive end Brian Robison said.
Beat Green Bay, and they're the No. 3 seed with a home game against Seattle. Lose, and they're a wild-card team with a trip to Green Bay or Washington.
"Doing it ourselves, taking care of business," Peterson said, "I'm just proud of all these guys."
Notes: Peterson extended his NFL rushing lead over Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, 1,418 to 1,354. ... Giants LB J.T. Thomas was ejected for fighting with Vikings TE MyCole Pruitt in the fourth quarter. ... Bridgewater passed 3,000 yards for the season, a modest mark in the NFL now but not for the Vikings, who've had only one other QB, Brett Favre in 2009, get there in the last 11 years. ... The Giants lost strong safety Craig Dahl and right tackle Marshall Newhouse to concussions. ... Vikings right tackle Matt Kalil limped off in the fourth quarter with an injury to his lower right leg, the first missed snaps of his four-year career. Zimmer said X-rays were negative.