MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson picked up the Minnesota Vikings and gave them a thrilling ride to the playoffs, where the next stop on this improbable journey is, yes, Green Bay.
This game was so full of action, intrigue and tension they’re going to stage it again next weekend.
Peterson finished 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, but he still powered the Vikings past the Packers 37-34 Sunday with 199 yards to set up a rematch at Lambeau Field in a first-round playoff game.
“I told myself to come into this game focused on one thing, and that’s winning," Peterson said.
Peterson rumbled around the left side of the line for a 27-yard gain in the closing seconds, his career-high 34th carry exactly one year after reconstructive surgery on his left knee. That set up Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal as time expired and put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason after consecutive last-place finishes.
“For our guys to be as resilient as they were, it has you swelling with pride," coach Leslie Frazier said.
The division champion Packers (11-5) dropped to the NFC’s No. 3 seed. Their five-game winning streak against the Vikings ended.
“I had a feeling that we had the game in the bag the whole game," Vikings cornerback Chris Cook said. “It was just a vibe that I had on the sideline, in how we were carrying ourselves."
Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson.
Ponder went 16 for 28 for 234 yards, including a 65-yard zinger in stride to Jarius Wright midway through the fourth quarter that set up Ponder’s third touchdown toss.
“It’s disappointing. A lot of us wanted that extra week," Rodgers said.
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards, becoming the seventh player in NFL history to reach the 2,000 mark. He had to work for it, pulling out all the cutbacks, stutter-steps and spins he could find in his exceptional skill set. His longest run was only 28 yards against a defense geared to slow him down, and the first contact often came at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.
“It wasn’t meant to happen, or it would’ve happened. Not to say it doesn’t hurt, because it does," Peterson said of Dickerson’s 28-year-old record. “But we came in here tonight and accomplished the ultimate goal, and that was getting a win and punching our ticket to the playoffs."
The Packers cut the lead to 27-24 late in the third quarter on a touchdown reception by James Jones. The on-field ruling was a fumble at the goal line, triggering an automatic review. Because the Packers threw the challenge flag after the replay process began, however, they were only penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, not prevented from benefiting from the overturned call. That’s what happened to Detroit infamously on Thanksgiving, when a disputed score by Houston was prevented from review.
After posting a 9-23 record over the past two years, the Vikings made so many strides in 2012 that the season was already a success. But no NFL team would ever be satisfied by finishing in defeat against a division rival, and the emotion and energy behind the quest was palpable all afternoon.
“It took us a little while to adjust to the crowd noise, and we didn’t get going," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That usually happens up here. This is a tough place to play, no doubt. We anticipated this being the loudest environment of the year. They pumped it in here pretty good today."
The NFC North was sewn up by the Packers two weeks earlier. Even though the bye remained in the balance the top seed didn’t do the Packers any good last season. They went 15-1 and lost their opener at home to the eventual champion Giants.
In other games on Sunday:
LANDOVER, Md. — Robert Griffin III ran for a touchdown, and fellow rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards and three scores as Washington won its first NFC East division title in 13 years by beating Dallas. The Redskins are 10-6 and will host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday, having won seven straight since their bye week. Washington is the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 to make the postseason since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis made Chuck Pagano a winner in his return to the sideline. Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns and Deji Karim swung the game with a 101-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, giving the Colts a victory over Houston. It was Pagano’s first game back as coach since starting treatment for leukemia Sept. 26.
CINCINNATI — Carlos Dunlap returned an interception 14 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to lead Baltimore. The Ravens (10-6) had already clinched their second straight AFC North title, and they will open the playoffs at home against Indianapolis.
DENVER — Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns to lift Denver into the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs. Manning finished the season with 4,659 yards, 41 short of his career high. He finished with 37 touchdown passes, and none will be more memorable than the last two — circus catches by Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas that turned the game into a blowout.
SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Crabtree caught touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards as San Francisco won a second straight NFC West title. Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-best 276 yards and two TDs as the Niners (11-4-1) earned a No. 2 seed thanks to Green Bay’s loss to Minnesota.
SEATTLE — Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, and his 1-yard TD run with 1:39 left allowed Seattle to finish as the only unbeaten team at home. St. Louis (7-8-1) sacked Wilson six times, but couldn’t come up with its first winning record since 2003.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and New England earned a playoff bye. Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns as the Patriots used a ball-control offense and a defense that racked up a season-high seven sacks.
ATLANTA — Atlanta couldn’t follow through with its plan to gain momentum for the playoffs as Josh Freeman threw a touchdown pass to Mike Williams and Doug Martin ran for 141 yards for Tampa Bay. The Falcons (13-3) had little to play for as they already have home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
DETROIT — Chicago’s Jay Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown and helped seal the game with a late scramble. The Bears (10-6) needed a Minnesota loss to Green Bay to reach the postseason.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There will be no Super Bowl repeat for the New York Giants. Not even a playoff berth despite Eli Manning’s career-high five touchdown passes.
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger threw three short touchdown passes, and Pittsburgh avoided its first losing season in nearly a decade.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — C.J. Spiller scored on a 66-yard catch and run in helping underachieving Buffalo, while New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had two more turnovers.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee became the first NFL team with two players scoring twice on returns in closing out the season with two wins in its final three games.
NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees made more NFL history in a loss to Carolina. Brees passed for 396 yards, giving him 5,177 this season. That makes him the first player to eclipse 5,000 yards three times.
SAN DIEGO — Michael Spurlock returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown on a wet, gloomy day in what is expected to be Norv Turner’s final game as San Diego’s coach.