As a wonderful mix of pride and euphoria swirled through the Vikings locker room Sunday evening, a quest for explanations began.
In so many ways, the scene made so little sense. The NFL's most surprising team of 2012 had won the right to keep playing into 2013, upsetting the rival Green Bay Packers 37-34 on a last-second, 29-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.
That provided the climax to a wildly entertaining, often confusing and incredibly stressful day in which the Vikings never trailed but never felt completely safe either.
Walsh's kick triggered fireworks, then provided an even more notable locker room eruption at Mall of America Field.
Somehow, these Vikings are one of 12 teams left with a chance to win the Super Bowl.
"How about those Vikings, huh?" coach Leslie Frazier said with a double fist pump.
Sunday's triumph -- more improbable in its form than in its result -- provided the Vikings a 10th victory and created a playoff rematch with the NFC North champion Packers on Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
So it was worth asking: How in the world did all this happen?
"That's a great question," 14th-year veteran Antoine Winfield said. "I don't know."
Even the players who hustled and fought to collect each of the 10 victories and who have preached for months about the values of belief and unity confess that this extraordinary run is now stretching even their imaginations.
Winfield did what many pro athletes do, issuing a reminder that the Vikings have quieted their doubters.
"I'm sure none of you had us picked to get into the playoffs," he said.
Yeah, but Antoine, in August how much of a chance did you give this team to win 10 times and reach the playoffs?
"Small percentage," he confessed. "But it happened."
Jared Allen searched for his own ways to explain the turnaround -- from 3-13 last season to 10-6 now, from the NFC North cellar to an express ramp that has them gaining momentum and confidence for the playoffs. Yet as Allen tried to convey his pride in this team's work ethic and focus, he eventually opted for an idiom borrowed from fellow defensive lineman Fred Evans.
"Ain't no couches in the ocean, playa," Allen said with a laugh. "So you better sink or swim."
Owner Zygi Wilf has made a habit this season of giving his tie away after victories to that day's hero. But Wilf would have needed a U-Haul to bring enough neckwear to reward all those worthy Sunday.
Walsh, for one, not only kicked the winner but opened the scoring with a 54-yard field goal, his 10th consecutive make from 50 yards or beyond.
And how would any recap be complete without glowing exaltation of Adrian Peterson, whose chase of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record came up 8 yards short. But did that really matter after Peterson supplied 199 rushing yards, including 26 on his final carry? He also scored twice -- on a 7-yard run and a 2-yard catch.
And a single-season rushing total of 2,097 yards plus the magnetic optimism that Peterson has used to drive this team certainly merited the "M-V-P" chants that bounced around the Metrodome.
The running back heard those. "I was really just taking in all the love they were showing me," Peterson said.
Sunday's love also went toward Jarius Wright, who not only caught an 8-yard TD in the second quarter but delivered the Vikings' longest catch this season -- a 65-yarder in the fourth quarter during a key tiebreaking touchdown drive.
Sunday's love also belonged to Brian Robison, gritty enough to fight through a shoulder sprain to create the game's only turnover, a third-quarter Aaron Rodgers fumble that Jamarca Sanford emerged from a dogpile clutching.
And Sunday's love belonged to Christian Ponder, who embraced the biggest moments of the biggest game of his life and delivered time after time -- 234 yards, three TD passes, no turnovers, a career-best 120.2 rating.
This seemed like a turning point.
Ponder almost threw an interception late in the first half, a Morgan Burnett blitz hit blooping his pass high into the air -- like a pop foul behind home plate with at least two Packers waiting to snatch it. Yet somehow Wright turned that into a 17-yard completion.
Later, after Michael Jenkins dropped a potential TD pass with 9:35 left, Ponder came back to him four snaps later for an improvised 3-yard score.
All day, the Vikings turned danger into accomplishment. All season, they have turned belief into success. Now, they are playoff bound.
Dan Wiederer • firstname.lastname@example.org
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