With Peterson hemmed in, Vikings offense excels outside the box

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2012 - 4:55 AM

His streak of 100-yard games ended, but Christian Ponder found other outlets, and backup Toby Gerhart finished up with a TD.

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Vikings running back Adrian Peterson saw Texans tacklers coming at him in waves in the fourth quarter Sunsday. He finished with 86 yards, but said he was plenty satisfied with the victory.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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HOUSTON — This is how the Vikings offense should look when teams consistently commit eight and nine defenders to stopping Adrian Peterson.

That's why the soon-to-be five-time All-Pro running back was still smiling on a day when he failed to gain 100 yards for the first time in nine weeks. That's also why he called the 9-6 Vikings a playoff-worthy team on a day when their best player matched his worst rushing average of the season.

"It felt good to see other guys get involved," Peterson said after the Vikings' 23-6 victory over the Texans at Reliant Stadium. "It felt good for us to continue moving the ball down the field and get some points."

The Vikings' two biggest victories of the season came against the 49ers in Week 3 and the Texans on Sunday. Ironically, Peterson's rushing numbers were the same in both games: 25 carries for 86 yards, no touchdowns and a season-low 3.4 average.

With 1,898 yards this season, Peterson heads into Sunday's season finale against the visiting Packers needing 102 yards to become the seventh NFL player to rush for 2,000 yards and 208 to break Eric Dickerson's single-season mark of 2,105.

Oh, and by the way, Peterson had 210 yards on 21 carries at Green Bay 22 days ago.

"Of course, I care about [the record]," Peterson said. "But I'm not going to let it overwhelm me. I'll get some rest and be ready to get the 'W' and break that record."

The Texans came into Sunday's game ranked fifth against the run with a 93.2-yard average. They had nine players in the box on the Vikings' first play from scrimmage.

Peterson went 20 yards anyway. He also sprinkled in additional runs of 20 and 21 yards, extending his NFL-best runs of 20 yards to 23.

But Peterson also was stopped for no gain or losses on 14 of his 25 carries. Those 14 carries, all of which came against at least eight defenders in the box or a cornerback blitzing off the edge, went for minus-14 yards total, while 22 of his 25 carries went for only 25 yards.

"Obviously, we're happy to hold him under 100 yards," said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. "But we're not happy with the results of the overall game."

With Peterson drawing so much attention, the Vikings had perfect balance. They rushed for 174 yards on 42 carries (4.1) while Christian Ponder passed for 174 yards. Ponder also ran seven times for 48 yards.

"Christian's a young guy who is playing with more passion and showing more desire, having more confidence in what he can do," Peterson said. "He's taking chances. Sometimes, you're like, 'Ahhh.' But that's everybody. It just gets pointed out more at the quarterback position. But he's been outstanding these past couple weeks."

Peterson's final carry of the game came with 6 minutes, 46 seconds left. Rather than risk further aggravating Peterson's abdomen injury, the Vikings turned to backup Toby Gerhart, who matched a season high for carries (eight) while rushing for 31 yards and his first touchdown of the season.

"I was a little sore, but nothing too serious," Peterson said of his abdomen. "It's been bothering me the past couple of weeks. I feel we made the best decision. Toby did a good job of sticking the dagger in them. So mission completed."

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