Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder looked to pass before the Packers' Clay Matthews tackled him in the first quarter Sunday.
Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
NFC WILD CARD VIKINGS AT GREEN BAY 7 p.m. Saturday Lambeau Field TV: Ch. 11
Vikings are masters of resiliency
- Article by: DAN WIEDERER
- Star Tribune
- January 1, 2013 - 8:58 AM
Leslie Frazier never set out to be the NFL's foremost spokesman on resilience. But in the past month, the Vikings coach has found himself hosting a weekly infomercial detailing how his team channels its mental toughness toward success.
On Sunday, after the Vikings' completed an improbable four-game winning streak -- their longest since 2009 -- to invade the NFC playoffs, Frazier couldn't stop gushing about his team's ability to steer around misfortune without flinching.
Then, on Monday, on the final day of 2012, Frazier again commended his team's leadership and the resolve players showed all throughout a wild Sunday afternoon in which the Vikings were hit with at least a half-dozen opportunities to fold.
Instead, at every sign of trouble, they rose up and found ways to deliver a magical 37-34 victory over Green Bay.
Said Frazier: "That's a testament to the character of the players -- not looking over and saying, 'Man, why is so-and-so not doing his job?' or 'Why didn't that happen?' Instead, we were just focusing on the next play or the next series, and going out there and making a play."
Take, for example, Adrian Peterson's near-fumble midway through the third quarter, the ball squirting loose as he hit the ground after a 2-yard loss.
Luckily, Peterson's turnover was overturned by replay review. But a taunting penalty against right tackle Phil Loadholt pushed the Vikings into a second-and-27 predicament at the Green Bay 35.
Inescapable, right? Cut your losses and play for a field goal? Not when you have Peterson, who delivered on the next snap, bouncing a run outside for a breathtaking 28-yard gain.
If there was a play that aptly symbolized the 2012 season, that might have been it.
"There aren't a lot of teams what would even think you're going to get back to the line of scrimmage in that situation," Frazier said. "There we are looking at first-and-[goal]."
That was far from the only sequence Sunday where the Vikings smoothly dodged disaster like James Bond.
There was also the charmed 17-yard reception by rookie Jarius Wright late in the first half. That came on a Christian Ponder throw better suited for a schoolyard game of "500." Packers safety Morgan Burnett blitzed and hit Ponder as he threw. Green Bay's A.J. Hawk and Casey Hayward appeared to have first dibs on an interception. Instead, after a collision, the ball spurted to Wright.
In the third quarter, a controversial touchdown by James Jones pulled Green Bay within 27-24. The Vikings could have felt wronged having Jones' fumble overturned by replay. And they might have grown despondent by having that review allowed in the first place after Packers coach Mike McCarthy mistakenly launched his challenge flag.
That emotional swing might have flustered a mentally fragile team.
After all, the Vikings punted on their next possession and the Packers then tied the score at 27 with a field goal.
But the Vikings quickly answered with their longest pass of the season -- 65 yards from Ponder to Wright, propelling a 79-yard touchdown drive.
And when Rodgers tied the score again at 34, the Vikings used the final 2:54 to march 61 yards for a playoffs-clinching field goal.
Said Frazier: "There were so many moments [Sunday] with all the ebbs and flows of the game, where you could have easily said, 'OK, they've got the momentum now. How are we going to get it back?' Or, 'Is it over with?' But our guys, they just kept focused on the task, and no matter what happened, they continued to go back out and play and fight and believe that one series wouldn't define that game."
'This team fights'
Peterson's extraordinary 2012 and the resolve needed to fuel it has been well documented. But consider all the other Vikings who have battled to aid this team's success.
On Sunday, the severely sprained AC joint in Brian Robison's right shoulder made it so the defensive end couldn't really feel his right arm. Yet Robison gutted through 40 snaps and delivered a pivotal sack and forced fumble in the second half.
"It was hard to breathe," Robison said. "But sometimes that's what you have to do if you want to make a playoff push."
Everson Griffen had three sacks himself, continuing a late-season surge less than three months after his mother unexpectedly died.
Just a few weeks ago, Wright had no way of knowing when his opportunity to contribute would come. He was inactive for the first nine games. Yet now he has 22 catches for 310 yards and all three of his receptions Sunday came in pivotal moments.
And Ponder? His miserable Week 13 effort in Green Bay cast serious doubt over his long-term potential. Even Ponder optimists woke up on the first Monday of December justified in questioning the young quarterback's skittishness, confidence and decision-making.
Then the 24-year-old quarterback settled down, captained the offense to four consecutive winning efforts, even delivering a fantastic outing in the season finale. He aided seven scoring drives, threw three TD passes and didn't turn the ball over.
The tales of resilience seem endless. Peterson and Jared Allen will head to the Pro Bowl later this month. And they'll be joined by a rookie kicker (Blair Walsh) who missed 14 field goals as a Georgia senior yet now enters the playoffs with 92 percent accuracy.
Also Pro Bowl bound: fullback Jerome Felton, who in his fifth season with his fourth team is finally getting a chance to showcase his skills.
No wonder Felton stood in a jubilant locker room Sunday night feeling so fulfilled.
"You don't understand," Felton said. "This is what I've been waiting for my whole career. ... This is the best team I've ever been around. Everybody's in this together. And this team fights. You can talk about executing, not executing, whatever.
"This team fights. And that, to me, is truly impressive."
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