Sid Hartman: Vikings look to become latest to get hot at right time

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2012 - 10:43 AM

 They have won three in a row and want to duplicate what the Packers and Giants did the past two postseasons.

I have been following the Vikings from the day they were awarded the franchise, and this team never before has made a jump like it has this year, a leap from a 3-13 record in 2011 to a possible 10-6 record and a playoff berth with a victory over Green Bay next week.

It's amazing how well the Vikings played Sunday, when you look back at how poorly they performed in some of their losses.

Now if they are able to get into the playoffs and perform like they did in beating Super Bowl contender Houston Texans 23-6 for their third victory in a row, they might surprise even more.

Last year's Giants are a good example of what can happen to a team that gets hot late in the season. If you want an example of how important momentum can be going into the playoffs, look no further than last season's Super Bowl champion. The Giants defeated the Cowboys 31-14 in the season finale, their second victory in a row, securing them the NFC East championship and a trip to the playoffs even though they were only 9-7.

The Giants then played host to the Falcons the first week of the playoffs, winning 24-2, before going on to win two road games, against the Packers 37-20 and the 49ers 20-17, before beating the Patriots 21-17 in the Super Bowl.

The Packers followed a similar pattern on their way to the championship two years ago. They won their last two games of the season to reach the playoffs at 10-6, beating the Bears 10-3 the final game of the season to secure a wild-card position. Then the Packers proceeded to win three consecutive road playoff games -- at Philadelphia 21-16, at Atlanta 48-21 and at Chicago 21-14 -- to reach the Super Bowl, where they beat the Steelers 31-25.

So in each of the past two seasons the eventual Super Bowl winner only secured their playoff position in the last week of the season, and the Giants and the Packers played a combined five of six playoff games on the road to win the title -- a fate that could be quite similar to the Vikings situation if they are to get in next week.

Packers game important

So this Packers game Sunday becomes one of the more important Vikings-Packers contests in history. If they can contain quarterback Aaron Rodgers half as well as they did Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on third down, holding him to 4-for-8 for 22 yards Sunday, they certainly will break their five-game losing streak to Green Bay.

Unlike the victories over the Rams and the Bears, where the Vikings won those games because of unbelievable days by running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings used different weapons this time.

Peterson failed to break 100 yards Sunday for the first time in nine games, but he did rush 25 times for 86 yards despite a groin problem and certainly contributed to the upset simply by keeping the Texans defense so focused on the run.

The Texans did hold Peterson to his lowest rushing total since he had 79 yards in an Oct. 14 loss to the Redskins.

So while Peterson had carried the team in victories over the Rams and the Bears, this time it was quarterback Christian Ponder, the offensive line, kicker Blair Walsh -- and the Vikings defense, which had a huge day holding the high-powered Houston offense to 187 yards, its lowest total of the year. The Vikings ran 73 plays to 53 by the losers and dominated the possession time 34:46 to 25:14.

Best day for Ponder

Ponder began his big day by completing three passes for 52 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown toss to tight end Kyle Rudolph on play-action that completed a eight-play, 78-yard drive in which he sparkled.

For the game, Ponder completed 16 of 30 passes -- many of them coming in crucial situations -- for 174 yards and a touchdown. The 2011 first-round draft choice also rushed seven times for 48 yards -- 14 more than the Texans ran for as a team.

Houston entered the game leading the NFL in defending third-down situations, allowing only a 26 percent success rate, but Ponder went 8-for-12 for 95 yards passing on third down and had runs of 21 and 29 yards. The team as a whole completed 50 percent of its third downs, going 9-for-18.

No doubt what also helped Ponder's best performance of the year was a good day by the offensive line, which limited star defensive end J.J. Watt to one sack and three tackles. And the Vikings receivers -- led by rookie Jarius Wright, who caught five of the nine passes thrown at him for 53 yards -- didn't drop as many balls as they usually do.

Ponder's rushing was highlighted by a big 29-yard run in the fourth quarter. With the score at 16-6 and 9 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game, Ponder scrambled to the right side on third-and-2 for a gigantic gain. The play took the Vikings from their own 44 to the Texans 27 -- but more importantly, it prolonged the drive at a time they were trying to eat up clock. Following Ponder's run the Vikings took an additional 4 minutes off the clock before Toby Gerhart scored the clinching touchdown with 4:49 to go.

Houston has lost only three times this season -- to quarterbacks Tom Brady of New England, Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and now Ponder, who is getting better all the time.

And it was a good thing that Ponder had a good day. Had he duplicated some of his poor performances early in the season and the Vikings lost, you can bet he would have been crucified by the media for getting married last week during the season.

Defense superb

The Vikings defense against the run Sunday was amazing. Houston failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2006. The Texans, who ranked first in the AFC in rushing at 141.9 yards per game, wound up with 34 yards rushing, with Arian Foster, one of the top running backs in the league, gaining 12 yards on eight carries in the first half.

He wound up with 10 rushes for 15 yards after leaving the game in the third quarter because of an irregular heartbeat.

No doubt the Vikings made their best goal-line stand of the year when the Texans had first-and-goal at the 1 in the third quarter after a 12-yard reception by Kevin Walter. On third down, Schaub was sacked for a 14-yard loss by tackle Fred Evans. So instead of scoring a touchdown and making the score 16-10, the Texans had to settle for a 33-yard field goal to cut their deficit to 16-6.

And to think, the Vikings defense did this with outstanding defensive end Brian Robison on the sidelines because of a shoulder injury.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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Minnesota 35 FINAL
Miami 37
Baltimore 13 FINAL
Houston 25
Detroit 20 FINAL
Chicago 14
Cleveland 13 FINAL
Carolina 17
Atlanta 30 FINAL
New Orleans 14
Green Bay 20 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Kansas City 12 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
New England 17 FINAL
NY Jets 16
NY Giants 37 FINAL
St. Louis 27
Buffalo 24 FINAL
Oakland 26
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Dallas 42
Seattle 35 FINAL
Arizona 6
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 108 FINAL
Toronto 118
Memphis 91 FINAL
Cleveland 105
Boston 84 FINAL
Miami 100
Detroit 105 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
LA Lakers 101 FINAL
Sacramento 108
Philadelphia 96 FINAL
Orlando 88
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Washington 92
Indiana 100 FINAL
Minnesota 96
New Orleans 101 FINAL
Oklahoma City 99
Colorado 2 FINAL(SO)
Detroit 1
Dallas 6 FINAL(SO)
Edmonton 5
Buffalo 3 FINAL(OT)
Boston 4
Carolina 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 1
Toronto 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Philadelphia 4 FINAL(OT)
Winnipeg 3
Harvard 27 FINAL
Virginia 76
Maine 69 FINAL
Army 72
Ferris State 82 FINAL
Bowling Green 68
San Francisco 65 FINAL
Cleveland State 69
Oregon State 52 FINAL
Quinnipiac 60
Coastal Carolina 72 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Holy Cross 48 FINAL
Canisius 67
Southern Miss 55 FINAL
Georgia State 68
Western Carolina 66 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 62
Creighton 58 FINAL
North Texas 62
Maryland 73 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
Cornell 61 FINAL
Radford 74
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Loyola-Maryland 52 FINAL
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Winthrop 100
Ark-Little Rock 46 FINAL
Green Bay 66
TX-Pan American 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 77
Alabama State 63 FINAL
Evansville 81
FIU 69 FINAL
Hartford 82
Goshen 55 FINAL
Valparaiso 82
Bryant 48 FINAL
Denver 46
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Lipscomb 69
Tennessee St 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 65
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Montana 62
ULM 50 FINAL
Samford 64
Coker 52 FINAL
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Hampton 75
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Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
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UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
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Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
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(13) Duke 89
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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