Upset of Houston leaves Vikings in control of playoff destiny

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2012 - 5:43 AM

A Vikings team once believed to be a rebuilding project at best is now a real postseason threat.

HOUSTON - Vikings coach Leslie Frazier knows all that's ahead this week, most notably a gigantic regular-season finale at Mall of America Field against the rival Packers with a playoff berth on the line.

"If you were going to write a script," Frazier said, "this is the way you'd want it to be done."

Rebuilding year? Maybe to the outside world.

But now the surging Vikings are 9-6 and in the middle of a wild-card battle royale.

One final weekend remains in the quest to gain admittance into the exclusive postseason bracket, and if the Vikings beat the Packers, they will make the postseason.

Still, in a dark and quiet interview room below Reliant Stadium, Frazier did not want to fast-forward too quickly, still too enraptured by his team's 23-6 destruction of the Texans to give too much thought to next week's win-and-advance showdown with Green Bay.

"We'll deal with that one after 24 hours of jubilation," Frazier insisted. "I don't want to think too far ahead. I want to bask in the glory of this win on the road."

Who could blame the usually tranquil coach for wanting to bounce through the roof? Throughout Sunday afternoon his hungry Vikings delivered so many energizing moments.

There was the 78-yard touchdown march on the first possession, a drive on which Christian Ponder completed all three of his passes for 62 yards, including a 3-yard score to Kyle Rudolph.

Not bad for a newly married quarterback who could have been flustered by a feisty Texans defense. Instead, Ponder (16-for-30, 174 yards, 48 rushing yards) appeared totally in control much of the day.

"I think not being single has been a plus for him," Frazier joked about his newly married quarterback.

More significantly, Frazier's defense locked with its most dominant effort this season. It wasn't just that the Vikings held Houston to 187 yards and six points -- 22 below its season average -- it's that they played smart, fast and ultra-physical.

There were fumbles forced by Jasper Brinkley and Harrison Smith with recoveries by A.J. Jefferson and Everson Griffen. And there was impressive aggression and discipline used to stifle Houston's zone running attack.

Arian Foster, the AFC's leading rusher coming into the day, managed 15 yards on 10 carries.

"There was a focus on being physical," Brinkley said. "And you have to be hungry. Everybody took the challenge. The D-line got their penetration up front and didn't get reach. And that's the way to shut that zone scheme off."

Still, arguably no play was more important than Fred Evans' third-down sack of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub with a minute left in the third quarter. Houston had driven to the Vikings 1, just missing out on a touchdown when Smith tackled Kevin Walter an instant before he could extend the ball across the goal line. With a quicker reach, Houston could have closed to within 16-13.

Instead, the Vikings dug in on three consecutive goal-to-go plays from the 1, with Evans taking advantage of Kevin Williams' inside push and knifing in to take down Schaub.

That stop forced a field goal.

"I wrapped around, our right end got up the field and the left end came underneath," Evans explained. "When I saw their penetration, I pushed through and was right there to get the sack."

And Evans' impromptu celebration?

"Just a native Texas dance called 'the Wobble.' You know one thing about it, I'm a good dancer," he said. "Provides that extra incentive to get there so you can have a little fun."

The Vikings are all having fun right now.

Somehow on a day in which Adrian Peterson was stopped for no gain or a loss on 14 of 25 rushes, the Vikings won going away. With 86 yards, Peterson's streak of eight consecutive 100-yard games ended. But did it really matter with the attention he attracted finally resulting in huge windows of opportunity for others?

Take, for example, the 32-yard catch Michael Jenkins made to jump-start the opening TD drive, breaking wide open across the middle and making a routine backyard catch in stride. Or the winding 29-yard run Ponder delivered late, looking like a trespassing fan trying to steer away from stadium security.

"I ran like 100 yards to get those 29 yards," the quarterback joked.

Maybe so. But that scamper aided the final touchdown drive. Ponder also stamped the perfect caption on Sunday's masterpiece: "We're not done yet."

Nope. One final game remains with a chance to push a surprising 2012 surge into 2013. And the Vikings relish having that opportunity.

"We've known for a while what we have inside this locker room," Brinkley said. "It's a bunch of guys who aren't scared to face up and answer the challenge."

Dan Wiederer • dan.wiederer@startribune.com

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  • VIKINGS 23, HOUSTON 6

    Next week: vs. Green Bay

    Note: The start of the Packers-Vikings game Sunday at the Metrodome has been changed from noon to 3:25 p.m. by the NFL. The game will be televised on Ch. 9.

    VIKINGS PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

    • The Vikings will make the playoffs if they beat the Packers this Sunday.

    • The Vikings can also make the playoffs, with a loss, if the Giants, Cowboys and Bears also lose.

    • The Giants play host to Philadelphia, the Cowboys play at Washington, and the Bears play at Detroit.

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