On a day when the Vikings had only 58 yards passing, Adrian Peterson turned in his best performance since coming off injury. Peterson led the Vikings on offense with 153 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown, and the defense helped take care of the rest in the 21-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
After a 31-yard interception return by the Minnesota’s rookie safety Harrison Smith to start the second half, the Vikings looked like they would coast to a win.
But the Cardinals are known for coming on strong late in the game this year, and with four minutes left on the clock Arizona quarterback John Skelton was able to lead the team down the field on an 81-yard drive for a touchdown.
Following a 6-yard touchdown pass to Andre Roberts, the Cardinals attempted an onside kick, but special teamer Matt Asiata was able to fall on the ball before it rolled for 10 yards.
Running out the clock with four straight runs up the middle, Peterson capped off his 29th 100-yard rushing performance, tying him with Robert Smith for the Vikings record.
However, the final play of the game wasn’t without drama.
Faced with a 4th-and-5 with 14 seconds left on the clock, the Vikings looked as though they might attempt a field goal. Rather than risk a block or miss and put the Cardinals in better position for a last-second Hail Mary, coach Leslie Frazier opted to give the ball to Peterson and he picked up the first down easily with an 8-yard run.
Peterson led the Vikings offense from the beginning of the game. Minnesota’s first touchdown was set up by a 29-yard defensive pass interference call on William Gay. The very next play, Peterson started to the left side and cut right up the middle and into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.
“It started up front,” said Peterson during his postgame press conference. “We preached about being physical and those guys just really set the tempo.”
Peterson also addressed the significance of his performance.
“It’s a blessing. I don’t really get too excited about breaking records, you know, just remain humble, but it feels good,” said Peterson. “I’ve been blessed to be in this position, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
“I’m extremely proud of the way our team played,” said Frazier during his postgame press conference. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game, and they’ve got a very good defense.”
The strength of the Cardinals defense was evident in Minnesota’s passing game as Ponder was only able to complete 8-of-17 passes for 58 yards. Ponder was intercepted twice in the second quarter, the first of which led to a Cardinals touchdown just four plays later to tie the score at a touchdown apiece.
In his postgame presser, Ponder credited the defense with the win and highlighted their seven sacks. Brian Robison had three and Jared Allen had two, as the Cardinals offensive line continues to allow huge sack numbers. He also took the blame for the team’s struggles in the passing game.
“Obviously as an offense, especially me, didn’t perform as well as we should have,” said Ponder. “We just couldn’t find plays, couldn’t get into a rhythm and a lot of that is my fault. I need to step up and play better.”
Although the Vikings didn’t execute well in the passing game, the play of the front seven on defense more than made up for it.
“We knew we needed to dominate up front to execute our game plan,” said Frazier.
That execution up front allowed them to effectively take Larry Fitzgerald out of the game by eliminating his big play potential. Fitzgerald had only four catches for 29 yards. His longest was a 16-yard reception, which led to the Cardinals touchdown at the end of the game.
After improving to 5-2 on the year, it will be a short week for the Vikings. On Thursday night, they face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team who just lost in dramatic fashion, 35-28, to the New Orleans Saints.
The Vikings get their first back-to-back games at Mall of America Field at the perfect time. Only one team has lost at home for Thursday Night Football this season as Minnesota will look to improve to 6-2 going into the second half of the season.