MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings were at the Green Bay Packers’ 37-yard line with 24 seconds left in Sunday’s game, and everyone inside the Metrodome — all 64,134 in the stands — knew who would get the football.
So did everyone on the Packers’ sideline. So did all 11 of their defensive players on the field.
And that didn’t make a darn bit of difference.
Adrian Peterson took the handoff, followed fullback Jerome Felton through the hole off left tackle and before anyone in white jersey could touch him, the Vikings running machine was into the secondary. Peterson rumbled 26 yards before Packers safety Morgan Burnett and defensive end Mike Daniels could bring him down at the 11-yard line. From there, rookie kicker Blair Walsh booted the 29-yard field goal that gave the Vikings a 37-34 victory that sent them into the playoffs, knocked the Packers out of a first-round bye and ensured these two teams would meet again next weekend in a wild-card game at Lambeau Field.
It didn’t matter that on Peterson’s final run, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers employed his run-stopping, goal-line defense with four defensive lineman and nine players in the box.
“Obviously you never know (who’s going to get the ball), but Dom was in an awesome defense for it,” Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “I haven’t watched the film yet, so I can’t verify exactly what happened, but Adrian’s a great player, and he obviously did what he needed to do on that play.”
He did, but he didn’t.
Had Peterson managed 9 more yards on that play, his final run of the regular season, he would have broken Eric Dickerson’s single-season NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards, a mark that has stood since 1984. Instead, Peterson finished the season with 2,097 yards — the second-highest total in NFL history and just the seventh 2,000-yard rushing season.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling inside,” Peterson said. “The first thing that came to my mind when I heard I was 9 yards short was, ‘It is what it is; it wasn’t meant to happen.’ Not to say it doesn’t hurt because it does. Ultimately, we came in here and accomplished the ultimate goal of getting a win and taking our team into the playoffs.”
With 199 yards on 34 carries, Peterson nearly matched his output in the first game against the Packers. On Dec. 2 at Lambeau Field, he rushed for 210 yards in the Packers’ 23-14 win. But his yards on Sunday came much differently. In the first meeting, Peterson broke tackles in the open field on long runs of 48 and 82 yards. This time, when he broke tackles — and he broke his share — it happened near the line of scrimmage to grind out hard yards. His long carry was just 28 yards.
“A lot of the runs he broke, especially early, we had him bottled up at the line of scrimmage, and he would find a way out,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “There’s nothing technical about that. It’s about what we were doing in second grade — run to the ball and wrap it up. We’ll make sure we do that next week.”
There’s little evidence to suggest that they will do as Hawk suggested in next week’s playoff game. All told, nearly one-fifth — or 19.5 percent to be exact — of Peterson’s rushing yards this season came in the two games against the Packers.
“He’s hurt us in both games,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “But in past years, we’ve had some games where we’ve done a good job on him. We definitely can stop him. Obviously, it’s going to take everybody, everybody to the ball to stop him.”
That Peterson nearly broke the rushing record on the one-year anniversary of the reconstructive surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury he sustained on Christmas Eve 2011, made his day — and his season — all the more remarkable. In the process, he might have done enough to sway those who vote for the NFL’s most valuable player award.
“He’s the best I’ve played against,” Williams said, “and it’s not even close.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.