It may have been the leg of All-Pro kicker Blair Walsh that propelled the Vikings to the playoffs with a 37-34 win, but it was the arm of Christian Ponder who played the best game of his NFL career against the Green Bay Packers.
"How bout those Vikings huh," said Leslie Frazier. "For our guys to be as resilient as they were througout this ball game has you swelling with pride."
In a game that had more story lines than a E.L. James novel, the main plot was simple. Win the final home contest and advance to the playoffs. Add to that the fact that the game was against the rival Green Bay Packers, and that Adrian Peterson was just 208 yards away from setting an all-time rushing record and the stage was set for plenty of drama to ensue at Mall of America Field.
The Vikings took the opening kickoff and drove 41 yards on 10 plays setting up the first of Walsh's three field goals. After a three and out, the Vikings took the ball and again drove the field but this time picked up seven points on an Adrian Peterson seven yard touchdown run.
Ponder finished the game throwing for 234 yards the three touchdowns and made clutch throws on third down completing eight of 11 passes, six of those for first downs for 77 yards and a touchdown. Every meaningful statistic you could possibly want from your starting quarterback.
After the second Walsh field goal put the Vikings up 13-0, the Packers finally put a drive together and their offense was off and running. A 12 play drive that set the Packers and Aaron Rodgers up for the first of his four touchdowns to Greg Jennings.
Rodgers stayed hot in the second half as he threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns but it was Ponder who made a play when he needed to to keep drives alive.
"What a way to finish the regular season," said Ponder. "The crowd was unbelievable. Our fans showed up and stayed in it the whole game."
Peterson finished the game with 199 yards, falling just nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record. When he broke off his 26 yard run to set up the Vikings at the 11 yard line the entire crowd rose in anticipation that history was about to be made. The should be NFL MVP didn't even know how close he was when he was tackled as time wound down in the fourth quarter.
"The first thing that came to my mind was it is what it is," said Peterson on falling just short of the record. "It wasn't meant to happen or it would have happened."
With the win, the Vikings will travel to Lambeau Field on Saturday night to face the Packers. After the team played the Packers to a close game on the road, then just defeated them at home, the formula may be set for the team to go into Lambeau for the second time in team history in the playoffs and spring another upset.
"We feel real good going into next week," said Frazier. "I think we've shown in the month of December that we can win on the road. Our guys know how to win on the road and it won't take a whole lot to get our players fired up to go play at Lambeau."