Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Tell 'em, Hawk!
(Incidentally, the guy on the right is the father of Rams' middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who the Vikings saw today.)
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings are still alive in the NFC playoff chase, riding a huge first half to a 36-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon. They did so behind the legs of Adrian Peterson (naturally) and the efficient play of Christian Ponder (in a bit of a surprise). With his 24-carry, 212-yard performance today, Peterson now sits at 1,812 yards on the season, putting him just 188 yards away from a 2000-yard season (meaning he'll have to average 94 yards a game to get there) and, more impressively, 293 yards behind Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 (meaning he'll have to average 147 yards over the last two games to break it). There was a bit of a panic after Peterson only had eight yards on his first eight carries. He had 204 on the 16 carries that followed, including an 82-yard touchdown run that set the Vikings rolling in the second quarter.
How impressive was Peterson's performance against this St. Louis defense? In the previous four games, the Rams had not allowed an individual rusher to go over 65 yards. Peterson had more yards than that on his long touchdown run. So that was pretty impressive.
Christian Ponder, the much-maligned one, had a solid afternoon. Sure, he only threw for 131 yards, but he completed right around 70% of his passes (going 17-for-24 on the afternoon) and was very impressive on Minnesota's first drive. While Peterson was having his early struggles, Ponder had completions of 14, 11, and 13 yards on the drive to keep the chains moving for Minnesota. He also converted a 4th-and-1 from the St. Louis 7-yard line (the Vikings accepted a defensive holding penalty on the play, but Ponder had scrambled for the necessary yardage anyway). Then, on third-and-goal from the St. Louis 5, Ponder appeared to be dead to rights in the arms of Rams' defensive end Robert Quinn, but somehow got away and found his way into the end zone for a touchdown to open the scoring for Minnesota.
The Minnesota defense was dominant in the first half. After allowing a touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Brian Quick to tie the score at 7 early in the second quarter (which the Vikings answered with Peterson's 82-yard score), the Vikings turned on the jets. A bad exchange from center was recovered by Chad Greenway and turned into the first of Blair Walsh's five field goals to make the score 17-7. On the next series, Everson Griffen (who saw increased playing time in this one because of an early injury to Brian Robison) looked like a linebacker dropping back into coverage to intercept a pass from Bradford, and proceeded to take it back 29 yards for another Minnesota touchdown. That made the score 24-7, and the Vikings were pretty much in control from there. Yes, the boxscore says that Bradford threw for 377 yards and three scores, but a lot of that came when the game was no longer in doubt. Bradford was sacked four times, hit on numerous other occasions, and never really looked comfortable.
After the Griffen interception, all of the Vikings' scoring came courtesy of the guy that might be the best kicker in the league, rookie Blair Walsh. Walsh set a couple of Vikings records today. He now has the Vikings' record for most field goals of 50 yards or more in a season, hitting three such bombs today to give him eight this season (Ryan Longwell had the previous mark with six). He now also owns the Vikings' rookie scoring record with 119 points, surpassing the mark of 106 that some guy named Randy Moss set back in 1998. For all the hype about "Legatron" and so forth, I'll take The Blair Walsh Project™ every time.
So where does this leave the Vikings in the playoff chase? Well, with the Chicago Bears losing to the Green Bay Packers (allowing the Packers to wrap up the NFC North title), I believe the Vikings are now ahead of them based on the divisional record tie-breaker. The Washington Redskins won today, which works against the Vikings, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got destroyed, which works in Minnesota's favor. The Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks are both involved in the late games, so that gives us something to keep an eye on.
But, the Minnesota Vikings are now 8-6. They're guaranteed no worse than a .500 season, and they'll go the entire season without once dropping below the .500 mark. For a team that most people expected 3 or 4 victories from this year, that's fairly impressive. They travel to Houston next week to take on the team that will likely be the AFC's top seed. If they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, they'll have to play a similar game to the one they played today.