Everywhere you looked the euphoria spread.
Following Sunday’s 34-24 win over Detroit at Mall of America Field, just about everybody within the Vikings organization had the look of a theme park mascot, their grins wide, bright and seemingly permanent.
Head coach Leslie Frazier took the podium, beaming because his team had again proven resilient, undeterred by a two-game losing streak that stirred up a hurricane of outside negativity.
Instead of drowning under the crashing waves of criticism, the Vikings convinced themselves they were better than Detroit, then proved it with enough big plays to offset their sloppy lapses.
Rookie receiver Jarius Wright? His smile was one of eagerness. After waiting until Week 10 just to be active for the first time — a promotion that came because Percy Harvin couldn’t play on his sprained ankle — Wright made an immediate impact. On his first series, he delivered a 54-yard reception and a 3-yard TD catch.
Never mind that during rehearsal for that deep pass Friday, Wright dropped the ball, a mistake he admits shook him.
“I was like, 'I can’t miss my moment,’ ” he said.
When the lights came on, he didn’t.
Of course, the Vikings took their biggest smiles Sunday from the play of Adrian Peterson, who might be having the most remarkable season of any player in the NFL right now.
For the fourth consecutive game, Peterson topped 100 yards rushing, this time racking up 171 on 27 carries.
No run was bigger than his 61-yard touchdown explosion with 8:06 left, the insurance score the Vikings so badly needed, providing a 31-17 lead as Detroit fueled up for one of its trademarked fourth-quarter rallies.
To that end, Peterson played the role of closer, touching the ball on nine of the Vikings’ first 12 fourth-quarter snaps and aiding three consecutive scoring drives.
The Lions’ comeback was not to be. Peterson’s is only picking up steam.
The running back’s impressive surge — he has 629 yards over the past four games — now comes with a frightening promise.
“I’m going to come back stronger and better after the bye,” Peterson vowed.
If losses to Tampa Bay and Seattle produced major questions about the strength of the run defense and the mercurial confidence of quarterback Christian Ponder, the only doubt to surface Sunday surrounded whether Peterson really had major knee surgery in December.
“I’m not totally sure if he did or not,” left guard Charlie Johnson joked. “I’d like to think we do our job up front to spring him. But there are so many times he makes us look good. The guy’s amazing.”
With Harvin out, Peterson’s big day proved timely. But Sunday’s win was far from a one-man show.
So many players provided big plays. Such as Chad Greenway’s first-quarter interception, a pass he tore out of tight end Brandon Pettigrew’s hands. That allowed the Vikings to steal three points, even with an ensuing offensive series that lost 5 yards.
There were also the nine receivers Ponder completed passes to. That came as part of a 24-for-32, 221-yard, two-TD effort.
All last week, Frazier promised there’d be adjustments to the offense — to protections, to routes, to play calls.
Sunday, those tweaks led to a season-best 34 points.
“The key,” Frazier said, “is Christian being able to go through his progressions. If something was taken away, go to the next guy. Be patient in the pocket. Deliver the ball on target.”
To that end, Ponder was solid. Yes, there was that early deep strike and TD toss to Wright. But more important, there was also the revival of the Ponder-to-Kyle Rudolph connection, good for seven completions and 64 yards, including a 20-yard score.
Some pregame words of wisdom from quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson seemed to calm Ponder.
“Coach Johnson talked about just going out and playing without worrying about the consequences of your throws,” he said. “Go out and let ’er rip. That’s what I did.”
Afterward, the good vibrations were everywhere, with Charlie Johnson providing the most fitting explanation.
In Week 11, the Vikings will be on bye, giving them two full weeks to absorb Sunday’s result. A double-digit victory certainly provided a lot more peace of mind than a third consecutive loss would have.
“This will help guys relax more,” Johnson said. “If we had lost this, going into the bye with three straight losses, that’s a lot of time to be thinking and trying to figure stuff out. … You can never relax in this league. But [with a win like this], you can take a deep breath with the understanding that when we do play, we can play pretty well.”
Dan Wiederer firstname.lastname@example.org