Vikings winning formula: Give the ball to Peterson

  • Article by: KEVIN SEIFERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2007 - 11:08 PM

Adrian (All Day) Peterson had a day for the ages, rushing for an NFL-record 296 yards to go with three TDs.

Whew! The magic elixir has finally arrived. It came not from Bora Bora or Morocco or any other exotic locale, just a small town near Dallas that produces men who singlehandedly can win football games.

After a global search, the Vikings have found the secret to winning: Hand the ball to Adrian Peterson and wait for him to reach 200 yards. Sunday, they rode Peterson's NFL-record 296-yard performance to a 35-17 victory over San Diego.

The Vikings are 2-0 this season when Peterson crashes that heavenly barrier and 1-5 when he does not; he amassed 224 yards in a 34-31 victory last month at Chicago. Who would have thought winning could be so straightforward?

The Vikings again played musical quarterbacks Sunday, replacing injured Tarvaris Jackson (concussion) with Brooks Bollinger, but fortunately they have thrust aside their tortured tailback rotation.

With Peterson starting and Chester Taylor working in relief, the Vikings finished with their best offensive performance -- 528 total yards, including a team-record 378 on the ground -- in their past 51 games.

"That's the way I like to play football," coach Brad Childress said. "I do have a healthy respect for being able to run it and taking somebody's will from them, and then playing off of that with play-action. If you're looking for a benchmark, [this is it]."

All it took was for Peterson to accumulate 253 yards in the second half alone, transforming a 14-7 halftime deficit into a rout midway through the fourth quarter. He accounted for three touchdowns himself and was partially responsible for a fourth; Bollinger' play-action fake to Peterson left receiver Sidney Rice wide open for a 40-yard score.

Peterson sealed the game on a 46-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 44 seconds remaining and broke Jamal Lewis' four-year-old rushing record with his final carry of the game. Peterson's season total of 1,036 yards represents the best eight-game performance by a rookie in NFL history and is tied for fifth-best among all players.

Just as important, however, the Vikings have finally unleashed their primary offensive weapon in its full fury. Peterson established a career high with 30 carries, touching the ball on 47 percent of the Vikings' offensive plays.

Their commitment to Peterson finally secure, the Vikings were carrying themselves early Sunday evening like a team far better than its 3-5 record indicates.

"The guys in the locker room and in this organization know what we have," Peterson said. "Other guys have tapped out on us. We know what we have. It's all on us. We have stayed positive and kept taking it one game at a time."

During a team meeting Sunday, in fact, Childress reminded players of the 2005 Vikings team that started 2-5 before winning six consecutive games. Twenty players remain from that team, and Childress said, "Some of those guys understand what it takes."

It didn't appear that way at halftime Sunday. Childress' decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal on the half's final play had ended in disaster: Ryan Longwell's kick was short, and San Diego's Antonio Cromartie returned it 109 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in NFL history.

Childress hurled his headset 15 yards toward the bench, knowing the Chargers shouldn't have the lead on a day his defense would hold tailback LaDainian Tomlinson to 2.5 yards per carry and harass quarterback Philip Rivers into a 19-for-42 afternoon.

The Vikings spent only a few minutes in the locker room before storming back onto the field.

"It doesn't do any good to rant and rave," Childress said. "[The first half] was in the past. ... We were playing pretty good football, so if you want to come in and rant and rave, it's going to be a turnoff."

The Vikings scored touchdowns on four of their first six possessions in the second half and could have had more were it not for red-zone fumbles by Taylor in the third quarter and Peterson in the fourth.

"I think [the second half] determined the rest of our season right there," receiver Robert Ferguson said. "We could have folded, and if we folded today, the season would have been down the drain."

Instead, it entered historic territory when the Vikings regained possession at their 10-yard line with 1:58 remaining. The game was well in hand -- Peterson already had crossed the 200-yard barrier, after all -- and Lewis' NFL record still stood 37 yards away.

Peterson, however, dashed for 35 yards on the Vikings' first play -- nearly scampering past Chargers cornerback Marlon McCree for what would have been a 90-yard score. Instead, he took one play off and then re-entered to break the record with a 3-yard run.

"Anything is possible, you know," Peterson said afterwards.

Sure. Just keeping churning out those 200-yard games.

Kevin Seifert •

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