– Green Bay had lost. The Vikings held a six-point lead in Oakland. Shadows loomed. First place beckoned. They turned to their franchise player.

On the first four plays of the fourth quarter, Teddy Bridgewater took the snap from center … and handed the ball to Adrian Peterson. After taking a sack, Bridgewater handed it to Peterson again.

On four of the first six plays of the Vikings’ next drive, Bridgewater handed the ball to Peterson.

On the first play of the Vikings’ third and last possession of the game, Bridgewater handed the ball to Peterson and he sprinted 80 yards for the final, calming score in a 30-14 victory at O.co Coliseum.

You build championship teams around quarterbacks. Everyone knows that’s the way it works in the modern NFL.

Because of his position, age, draft status and personality, Bridgewater quickly became the Vikings’ franchise player last season. That was the Vikings’ new reality after Peterson was effectively suspended for the last 15 games of last season, and it wasn’t a harsh reality. They had been looking for someone like Bridgewater for more than a decade, and now they could show him off and give him support and see how far he could take them.

Then Peterson came back and proved he is still one of the best players in football, and the Vikings started winning, and it became clear that a distinction should be made about Bridgewater. He may be a franchise quarterback. He is not the Vikings’ franchise player.

With 26 more carries for 203 more yards, Peterson provided a reminder on Sunday that he is the straw that stirs the drink, the fulcrum that lifts this team.

In tying O.J. Simpson’s NFL record with his sixth 200-yard game, Peterson re-proved that at 30 he has not worn down. He has looked refreshed. He has become more patient and powerful as the Vikings have taken over first place in the NFC North.

“I would say I just have the feeling of being more agile,’’ he said. “There’s more explosiveness, I feel quicker — my vision, just my whole vibe, I get into a rhythm. It’s become on a different level here in the last three weeks.’’

Peterson said something like “Super sand.’’ Maybe it was “Super man,’’ and the dip in his cheek garbled the word. He has put together three straight 100-yard games, and a four-game stretch that included 98 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries against the Lions.

He leads the NFL in rushing. He has averaged 5.6 yards per carry over the last four weeks, and 141 yards per game. His yards-per-carry average of 7.8 was his highest since Dec. 2, 2012, when he carried 21 times for 210 yards at Green Bay.

It would be silly to think he’s is faster now than his younger self, but he may be stronger. Earlier this season he seemed to frequently hesitate at the line of scrimmage. Now he is pushing forward, cutting more sharply off blocks, driving the pile forward.

He is 30 and improving, and that is odd and important.

“I think for us as a team it’s important to challenge him to be that guy in the fourth quarter we can lean on,’’ linebacker Chad Greenway said. “He’s been a guy who can wear teams down. You look back at our San Francisco loss this year when we weren’t able to get off the field in those critical situations. It wears on you, and when you get to the fourth quarter, you realize you’ve lost in more ways than just on the scoreboard.’’

Peterson rushed 10 times for 137 yards in the fourth quarter, making him as much the offense’s Omega as its Alpha. The Vikings scored 30 points even though Bridgewater’s longest completion was a 37-yard catch-and-run by Stefon Diggs.

Bridgewater is vital to this franchise because of the position he plays and who he is. But the new Vikings are as old-school as Zimmer’s stubble, or Peterson’s chewing tobacco. They have climbed into first place one handoff at a time.

 

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On