Minnesota Vikings: The 10 Defining Moments of Minnesota's 2012 Season

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IJanuary 7, 2013

Minnesota Vikings: The 10 Defining Moments of Minnesota's 2012 Season

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    The Minnesota Vikings season ended when they lost to the Green Bay Packers 24-10 in the wild-card playoff game Saturday night at Lambeau Field.

    It was a disappointing loss, especially considering their starting quarterback, Christian Ponder, didn't play because of an elbow injury. However, the end of the 2012 season was a far cry from the end of last year, when the Vikings left Mall of America Field on January 1 after losing to the Chicago Bears, finishing their season 3-13.

    Most expected a long rebuilding process for Minnesota, and even the most hopeful of Vikings fans would have considered an 8-8 record an extremely successful season.

    Head coach Leslie Frazier and all of his staff out at Winter Park insisted the Vikings weren't rebuilding and that their expectations for 2012 were high. They proved to be on the mark, as the Vikings completed a remarkable turnaround that saw them win their last four regular-season games to finish the season at 10-6 and qualify for the NFC playoffs.

    We take a look at the 10 defining moments of the Minnesota Vikings' 2012 season.

Adrian Peterson's Rehab

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    Adrian Peterson always said he'd be ready to go on opening day.

    Everyone who pays attention to football and injuries in general just sort of smiled and rolled their eyes. It was great that Peterson was attacking his rehab like he attacks everything, but surely there was no way he could be back on the field by September 9, that was absurd.

    Peterson ignored all the naysayers and reiterated his stance on opening day in early June, telling Star-Tribune Vikings beat writer Dan Wiederer:

    "What I envision is to be suited up and ready to roll. Full strength," Peterson said. "Anything else? I would be cheating myself."

    Peterson tore through his rehab like a maniac, and the pictures like the one here became a talking point in the Twin Cities.

    Still, it seemed like a long shot, as the Vikings babied Peterson in camp and he didn't take a handoff in any of the preseason games. The closer the regular season got, the more the rumors flew that Peterson was ready to go.

    Sure enough, on opening day against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Peterson was in the starting lineup. He ran for 84 yards and two touchdowns, returning to the field just eight months after completely tearing up his left knee.

    It was only the beginning.

The 2012 NFL Draft

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    Thursday, April 26, through Saturday, April 28, were very good to the Minnesota Vikings.

    Those were the dates of the 2012 NFL draft, where the Vikings stockpiled talent for the coming years, getting six players who made significant contributions during the season and two more who made the team and could have bright futures.

    GM Rick Spielman and his staff were wheeling and dealing early on, trading down one spot in the first round with the Cleveland Browns, who were desperate to take running back Trent Richardson. The Vikings then got offensive tackle Matt Kalil out of USC, whom they wanted all along, but also picked up picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds.

    Minnesota then traded their second-round pick and one of their fourth-round picks to the Ravens to get back into the first round, where they selected safety Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame with the 29th overall pick. It was a brilliant move, as there is no way Smith would have been available with the 35th pick, and Smith proved to be a top-12 player in the draft class.

    The Vikings followed up those two picks by getting cornerback Josh Robinson, receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison, safety Robert Blanton, kicker Blair Walsh and linebacker Audie Cole in the second two days of the draft.

    Walsh may have been one of the best picks of the entire draft, and the sixth-rounder is heading to the Pro-Bowl after making an NFL record 10 kicks from beyond 50 yards.

    The Vikings did exactly what they had to do in the 2012 draft: They found three or four guys who can be starters and added depth at key positions.

Blair Walsh's Two Field Goals Beat the Jaguars

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    The 2011 NFL season found the Minnesota Vikings finding every which way to lose a football game on their way to a dismal 3-13 record.

    Week 1 of the 2012 campaign showed an early peek that things might be different.

    Rookie kicker Blair Walsh had looked fantastic in preseason and had nailed his first two field-goal tries of the game, converting from 20 and 42 yards.

    But this was asking a little too much, wasn't it?

    The Vikings had gotten the ball on their own 31-yard line with just 20 seconds left on the clock. Christian Ponder completed a huge 26-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu into Jacksonville territory. The Vikings got six more yards on a completion to Kyle Rudolph to get to the Jaguars 37-yard line with time for one more snap.

    55 yards? From a rookie kicker? With the clock hitting zero right after the snap?

    No problem.

    Walsh drilled it with room to spare to send the season opening game to overtime.

    Walsh capped off the Vikings overtime drive with a 38-yard field goal, and the Vikings defense held the Jaguars, giving Minnesota an exciting victory on the opening weekend of the season.

    Little did we know that Walsh was just warming up.

Christian Ponder Looks Legit in Week 2 Loss to the Colts

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    Nobody was quite sure what the Minnesota Vikings had at quarterback heading into the 2012 season.

    Christian Ponder had started 10 games in the dismal 2011 season, but it was hard to gauge his progress on such a futile team.

    Ponder had played very well in the opening week win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it was pretty easy to dismiss it—it was the Jaguars after all.

    Week 2 saw Ponder come out and go toe-to-toe with Colts rookie phenom Andrew Luck. Ponder had his best game as a professional, throwing for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Ponder was 27-of-35 on the day and led the Vikings on another late scoring drive, completing seven passes, including a six-yard touchdown throw to Kyle Rudolph that tied the game up with just over 30 seconds to play.

    The Vikings defense couldn't hold off Luck, though, and the Vikings lost the game on a Colts field goal with just eight seconds on the clock.

    Ponder had come out of the gate in 2012 looking very good.

The Vikings Beat Up the 49ers 24-13

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    It was a fun start to the 2012 season for the Minnesota Vikings, splitting games with the Jaguars and Colts and both games coming right down to the wire.

    Things would change in Week 3 though, with the big, bad San Francisco 49ers coming to town.

    The 49ers were on everyone's short list of Super Bowl contenders and, after starting their season with convincing wins over the Packers and the Lions, were being called the best team in football.

    In the end, the game wasn't close, but it was the Vikings who put the beating on the 49ers, winning 24-13 and looking dominant in the process.

    The Vikings dominated the 49ers in time of possession, having the ball for six minutes longer than San Francisco and running 18 more plays than them. The Vikings stuffed Frank Gore all day long, holding him to to just 63 yards rushing.

    It was a stunning win for the Purple and was a turning point in the season. If a team can beat the 49ers, they can't be that bad, right? Expectations were taken to a whole new level after a convincing win over a very good football team.

Percy Harvin Goes 105 Yards Against the Lions

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    A monster win over the San Francisco 49ers had the purple faithful buzzing in Minnesota. 

    A 2-1 start had things more exciting than they'd been for all of the dismal 2011 season.

    Week 4 had the Vikings going on the road to play their first divisional rival of the year, the Detroit Lions. Would the exciting start to the season be sustained?

    It took all of 12 seconds for that to be answered.

    Percy Harvin took the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown to continue his unbelievable start to the season. Harvin looked like he was a threat to go all the way every time he got his hands on the football, and he did just that to get the jump on the Lions.

    Marcus Sherels added a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, giving the Vikings all the scoring they would need in a 20-13 win over the Lions.

    Lost in the glow of the 3-1 start was that quarterback Christian Ponder threw for just 111 yards. No big deal, right? A win's a win, and the quarterback was just fine. 

    It would become a big deal.

Percy Harvin Is Injured in Crushing Loss to Seattle

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    Through the first half of the NFL season, you could've made a very good case that Percy Harvin was the league's MVP.

    The electric receiver/kick returner led the NFL in catches at that point, with 60 receptions for 667 yards and three touchdowns. He was also averaging an astonishing 35.9 yards on kickoff returns and was getting 4.5 yards per rush out of the backfield.

    Harvin was battling harder than anyone in the league; many of his catches were right at the line of scrimmage, basically long handoffs where Harvin always had the advantage out in space.

    In Week 9, against the Seattle Seahawks, Harvin twisted his ankle badly in the third quarter, but later returned to the game, although he was limping badly.

    It was initially called a severe ankle sprain, and he was listed as week to week. A month later, and he was put on injured reserve and lost for the season.

    Harvin had gotten into a shouting match with head coach Leslie Frazier on the sidelines of that game and speculation brewed that the Vikings had grown tired with Harvin's antics and shelved him for that reason.

    Was it that the ankle was much worse than anyone initially thought? Were the Vikings just tired of Harvin's mercurial attitude? Was it both?

    It will certainly be an interesting offseason for Percy Harvin. On the record, the Vikings are saying that everything is fine between the franchise and Harvin, but the rumor mill is speculating that he's played his last down as a Viking.

Adrian Peterson Goes Off for 210 vs. the Packers

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    Beginning on October 21 against the Arizona Cardinals and through the last regular-season game against the Green Bay Packers, Adrian Peterson put on what might have been the most dominant stretch of football ever played in the NFL.

    In 10 games, Peterson rushed for 1,598 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry on those 10 games and nearly 160 yards rushing a game.

    Peterson had exploded for long runs three straight weeks, against Tampa Bay, Seattle and Detroit, going for scampers of 64, 74 and 61 yards. After an "off" week against the Bears where he "only" rushed for 108 yards, Peterson took it out on the Packers.

    Halfway through the second quarter, with the Packers ahead 10-7, Peterson set sail on an 82-yard touchdown run that would light the match to the rest of his incredible season.

    Peterson then began the second half of the game with a 48-yard run that got the Vikings deep into Green Bay territory for what looked like it could be a dagger of a score.

    That score never came, but Peterson continued to run at a historic pace for the rest of the season.

Christian Ponder Bottoms Out in 23-14 Loss to the Packers

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    Can you really lose a football game when your running back goes off for 210 yards?

    You can. 

    When your quarterback throws two red-zone interceptions that completely pull the plug on your team's momentum, you're probably going to lose.

    As Adrian Peterson was setting sail on his historic run of games, quarterback Christian Ponder was putting up passing numbers as if he was playing quarterback in the 1950s.

    Beginning the same day that Peterson went on his rushing tear, October 21 against Arizona, Ponder averaged 140 yards of passing yards per game for a stretch of nine games, including three games where he didn't throw for 100 yards.

    It was a disheartening stretch to say the least for Ponder. He looked completely lost at times and was making poor throws and poor decisions. He showed no feel for the position and got sloppy with his footwork and mechanics.

    The Vikings won their last four games of the year, and Ponder played better the last month of the season, but he still wasn't great. He showed enough improvement that he'll be the starter heading into the 2013 season.

    The Vikings will need a lot more out of their quarterback to be legitimate contenders in 2013.

Adrian Peterson Goes Over 2,000 Yards, Vikings Make the Playoffs

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    The Vikings were basically playing for their playoff lives the last four weeks of the 2012 season, and they showed a lot of grit and determination in winning all four games and qualifying for the postseason.

    The last game of the season found the Vikings at home against the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings needed to win the game to get into the playoffs, and Adrian Peterson needed 102 yards to crack the 2,000-yard barrier.

    Peterson juked and slammed his way though the Packers defense all day long, ending up with 199 yards and 2,097 for the season. He finished just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark.

    For the Vikings, the exciting 34-31 victory over their archrivals proved to be the highlight of the season and set up a rematch in Green Bay the following week in the playoffs.

    The playoff game was completely forgettable for Minnesota, as the only excitement came in the run up to the game when word got out that Christian Ponder might not play because of sore elbow.

    Ponder was deactivated and Joe Webb became the first quarterback in history to start a playoff game after not throwing a pass in the regular season. It looked like he'd never thrown a ball in his life, as the Vikings were on the wrong end of a 24-10 defeat.

    2012 saw the Vikings take huge steps forward from 2011's 3-13 season. With 2012's improbable 10-6 record and playoff appearance, the expectation level now rises dramatically for 2013. With an influx of new draft picks, another year of experience for the younger players and a possible free agent or two, the pieces will be in place.

    We found out how far a running back can take a team in 2012. It would be nice to add an air attack for 2013.