MINNEAPOLIS — With a playoff berth hanging in the balance, Minnesota Vikings fifth-year center John Sullivan turned to Adrian Peterson on Sunday with one question for the franchise running back before their final offensive series.
“Doesn’t this feel like ’08?” asked Sullivan, who was a rookie during that 10-6 playoff campaign.
That year, before the team’s improbable playoff run after winning five of its last six games, Peterson rushed for 192 yards in a 28-27 midseason victory over the Green Bay Packers at the Metrodome, which included a 29-yard rushing touchdown with a little more than 2 minutes remaining for the go-ahead score.
While Peterson’s 199-yard performance Sunday wasn’t capped by a touchdown, his 26-yard run on the tail end of that final drive set up Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal and again was the final blow in another narrow win over the Vikings’ NFC North rival.
Since dropping a 23-14 road decision to the Packers earlier this month, Minnesota reeled off four consecutive victories to key another late-season surge.
“It had a lot of similarities,” said Sullivan comparing Sunday’s victory to 2008. “Although that last run wasn’t a touchdown, that was a huge, huge play to get us in field goal position and allow us to run the clock all the way down. It was big.”
Unlike his forgettable performance against the Packers at Lambeau Field, quarterback Christian Ponder handled the football with care during his workmanlike 234-passing yard, three-touchdown showing.
Even when the offense seemed to be losing its grip on the game’s momentum in the waning moments — sitting third-and-11 from their 27 — Ponder found wide receiver Michael Jenkins for 25 yards in the heart of the Packers’ eight-man zone to keep the drive moving.
“It was a play that we had practiced and we were kind of hoping they’d give us the coverage they did, andthey did,” Jenkins said.
“We knew they had eight guys deep and three rushing, so we knew there was a little spot we could take advantage of.”
Four Peterson touches later, the Vikings were at the Green Bay 11 with one of the league’s most sure-footed kickers ready for the game-winning try.
When it was over, the Vikings’ locker room spared itself from overhyping the obvious.
Sure, Sunday’s victory earned Minnesota its first playoff bid since Brett Favre led them to the NFC championship game during the 2009 season, but it’ll need one more win over Green Bay to spark another postseason rally.
The last time the Packers won a home playoff game came following the 2007 season.
The last time Minnesota won on the road in the playoffs came as the sixth seed after the 2004 season during a 31-17 victory over the third-seeded Packers — the same scenario as Saturday’s matchup.
So, can they do it again?
“Absolutely,” Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson said. “We just have to keep playing on this level that we’ve been playing.
“I felt like we left them off the hook the first game, but we got the win when it counted.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.