MINNEAPOLIS – You ready for an encore?
The Minnesota Vikings stunned the Green Bay Packers 37-34 in a thrill-a-minute regular-season finale at the Metrodome, earning themselves a playoff berth and a trip to Green Bay next weekend for a wild card rematch.
The Packers couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson – though he finished with 199 rushing yards of the 208 needed to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record -- but the big problem was quarterback Christian Ponder. The Packers had tied the game at 34 and were a third-and-11 stop from having a chance to win the game. Instead, Ponder found Michael Jenkins wide open behind Casey Hayward for a 25-yard gain to the Packers’ 48.
Peterson then broke off the killer run, a 26-yard run to the 11. Minnesota called timeout with 2 seconds remaining, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh connected from 29 yards as time expired.
Peterson rushed 34 times for 199 yards. Aaron Rodgers finished 28-of-40 for 365 yards with four touchdowns.
San Francisco won to earn the No. 2 seed. Green Bay is the No. 3 and will host Minnesota next weekend.
With Peterson running wild in pursuit of Dickerson’s record, it was Ponder and Jarius Wright making a huge play. After the Packers had battled from 13 down to tie the game at 27, Ponder threw a bomb to Wright, who ran past speedy Packers cornerback Sam Shields for a gain 65. Ponder’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins put the Vikings in front 34-27 with 7:54 to go in the fourth quarter.
The Packers answered. On third-and-21, Rodgers hit Jermichael Finley for 20. The Packers rushed to the line of scrimmage to run the fourth-down play, with Rodgers connecting with Jarrett Boykin for 7 and the first down to midfield. A 14-yard completion to Jennings on third-and-4, an 11-yard run by DuJuan Harris and a 16-yard penalty for pass interference on a pass to the goal line to Jordy Nelson set up first-and-goal at the 2. Rodgers faked to Harris and threw back-shoulder to Nelson to tie it at 34 with 2:54 remaining.
In a wild game with so much on the line, a bizarre sequence kept the Packers alive late in the third quarter. Trailing 27-17, a 73-yard bomb to Nelson put the ball at the 8. On first down, Rodgers threw a quick pass to James Jones, who ran inside the 5 and dove to the goal line. The ball popped loose and the Vikings recovered. Packers coach Mike McCarthy threw his challenge flag, which would have nullified the official review – just like the Lions lost a challenge on Jim Schwartz’s red flag in a controversial loss to Houston on Thanksgiving. Rodgers yelled at McCarthy and Nelson saw the flag and tried to grab it before the officials noticed, but it was too late.
Instead, the booth apparently was buzzed before McCarthy flew the flag. McCarthy was off the hook. What’s more, Jones was granted a touchdown on the review, cutting the Vikings’ lead to 27-24, and the only damage on McCarthy’s emotional outburst was an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for throwing the challenge flag.
When the Vikings went three-and-out and were flagged for a face mask on the punt, the Packers got the ball at the 50 to start the fourth quarter. The drive stalled but Mason Crosby connected from 40 to tie the game at 27 with 12:21 remaining.
The Packers cut a 20-10 halftime deficit to three points on the opening possession of the third quarter. Two big plays set up the score. The first as a 30-yard catch-and-run by James Jones that was sprung by a crunching block by Jermichael Finley. The second was a 45-yard catch-and-run by Greg Jennings, with Jennings stopping on a dime at the Vikings’ 44 and running to the 8. On second down, the Vikings blew the coverage on Jennings, who went from the slot to wide open in the corner of the end zone to make it 20-17.
The Packers had a chance to tie or take the lead after forcing a punt but Brian Robinson’s sack and strip of Rodgers gave the Vikings the ball at midfield. The Packers responded by forcing a Peterson fumble, but that rightly was overturned by replay. On second-and-27 after a roughness penalty on Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt, Peterson burst off the right side for 28 to the Packers’ 7. Green Bay forced it to third-and-goal but Jerron McMillian held tight end Kyle Rudolph on a jump ball in the end zone. On second-and-goal, Ponder faked to Peterson and hit him for a 2-yard touchdown, increasing the margin to 27-17 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Vikings led 20-10 at halftime after a frenetic final 4 minutes of the half. Minnesota caught a huge break on a second-and-9 play from its 42. Packers safety Morgan Burnett blitzed untouched up the middle and Ponder’s ball fluttered in the air. A.J. Hawk and Casey Hayward were in position to make a play on the ball but Wright made the catch for a gain of 17. Peterson, on his way to a 91-yard half, ripped off an 18-yard run to the 8 when it appeared B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews had him bottled up in the backfield and Burnett and Erik Walden had chances to stop him for a minimal gain. The touchdown came on the next play, when Ponder faked to Peterson and hit Wright, who got matched up on linebacker Brad Jones, for the touchdown and 20-7 lead.
The Packers started at their 20 with 1:07 remaining and no timeouts but managed to get a field goal, thanks in large part to catch-and-runs of 16 and 14 yards by Jermichael Finley. The last of those stopped the clock with 1 second to go, and Mason Crosby drilled a 51-yard field goal.
The Vikings, with more at stake, were the hungrier team at the start. They scored on their first three possessions, taking a 13-0 lead on the second play of the second quarter. They did it with Peterson running wild – 13 carries for 68 yards – and by converting on third-and-long.
Ponder hit Jerome Simpson for 8 on third-and-7, helping set up Walsh’s 54-yard field goal. A well-timed screen to Toby Gerhart on third-and-11 turned into a 21-yard gain, Peterson broke a tackle by Brad Jones on a 22-yard run and Peterson punched it in from 7 to make it 10-0. Ponder hit Michael Jenkins for 9 on third-and-10 and Peterson gained 6 on fourth-and-1, setting up a 37-yard field goal.
The Packers, playing without inactive Randall Cobb, got a big lift from Jeremy Ross. When the Packers finally forced a punt, Ross returned it 32 yards to the Vikings’ 42. Green Bay had to fight for every yard but managed to score a touchdown that made it 13-7 with 4:01 remaining in the half. Rodgers hit Jones for 11 on third-and-8 and Jennings for 8 on third-and-7, with Jennings make the catch at the line of scrimmage, slipping but fighting for the yardage. Jennings wound up dropping a first-down pass but redeemed himself by working free as Rodgers bought time on third-and-goal from the 3.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.