Pelissero: Determination, not desperation, driving Vikings' late push
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ST. LOUIS -- Leslie Frazier didn't hesitate. He didn't consider taking the points, as everyone says he's supposed to on the road.
He had preached so much about attacking from start to finish on Sunday, he couldn't waver when the Minnesota Vikings' opening drive faced fourth-and-1 at the St. Louis 7.
"I knew if we got in that situation early, that was exactly what we wanted to be able to do," Frazier said after the Vikings' 36-22 victory.
"We wanted to be aggressive. Talked to our players about it all week long, that we were going to be aggressive in every situation. That was a chance to back up what I had said during the week, and our guys, they handled it."
Christian Ponder faked a handoff and booted left. Kyle Rudolph was covered, so Ponder took off and scrambled 3 yards past the sticks. (Even if he failed, Rams linebacker Mario Haggan was flagged for holding John Carlson anyway.)
Three plays later, Ponder ducked Rams end Robert Quinn in the backfield, sprinted past clueless safety Quintin Mikell and dived in for a 5-yard touchdown on third-and-5.
It wasn't the most important sequence in a game that hinged on a monster day for Adrian Peterson and two Rams turnovers, creating a 26-point hole that drove the alleged crowd of 55,751 toward the exits before the home team showed a pulse late.
But it said a lot about how things have changed for a Vikings team that arrived with more at stake than it's had in December since 2009 and went home with the No. 6 spot in the NFC standings.
"There's that air of, when it's a one-game season, if you're going to go out, you've got to go out flying high," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "They've got to beat you. You can't beat yourself. I think we all went out there and played pretty well."
The disastrous 3-13 campaign of 2011 was marked in part by two doomed fourth-and-1 decisions -- runs to Toby Gerhart for no gain with a three-point lead in an overtime loss to Detroit and a 2-yard loss down 10 late in a loss at Atlanta.
Those calls smacked of desperation as Frazier watched his first full season circle the drain, knowing changes were coming. The call he made on Sunday came across as confidence from a coaching staff that knows precisely how it needs to keep the season alive.
Now the Vikings prepare to face mighty Houston at 8-6, one shy of their win total from the past two seasons combined and halfway to the four-game win streak Frazier told players they needed after losses at Chicago and Green Bay had them on the brink of playoff elimination.
"It means a lot to us as a group, and all phases played great ball," Peterson said. "We keep talking about it -- we control our own destiny. Hey, we want to finish off 4-0. We're 2-0 now.
"To win on the road in this league, it's hard to do. We was able to do that by playing sound football, protecting the ball, good coverage, special teams, defense, scoring and playing outstanding football. If we continue on this track, all phases playing the way we're playing, I feel like we will reach our goals."
Peterson strengthened his MVP candidacy on Sunday by exploding for 212 yards on 24 carries -- including two long runs that couldn't have come at more pivotal moments.
When the Rams knotted the score at 7 on Sam Bradford's 4-yard touchdown pass to Brian Quick early in the second quarter, Bill Musgrave's next call was a draw to Peterson, who beat the blitz for an 82-yard touchdown.
When the Rams whittled that 26-point deficit to 11 with 7 minutes, 48 seconds to go, Musgrave went back to Peterson, who cut back a lead play gone nowhere, shook two tacklers and raced 52 yards to set up a Blair Walsh field goal, halting the momentum again.
"For an opposing team, it's demoralizing," Frazier said. "You feel like you're about to get back in it, and the guy that you come into the game saying you have to stop still breaks big plays."
Ponder rode another conservative, movement-based game plan to an efficient day (17-of-24 passing, 131 yards), connecting with seven different receivers.
And Alan Williams' defense blitzed more than it has all season, standing tall until the score dictated a prevent approach that surrendered three long second-half drives.
"It gives us a lot more swagger," Griffen said. "But we've just got to come out and play our game. The second half, we came out kind of shaky. We've just got to keep putting it on them and putting it on them."
Green Bay (10-4) clinched the NFC North on the strength of their fifth division win against Chicago (8-6), which lost its third straight game to fall into a four-way tie with the Vikings, Dallas and the New York Giants.
If the playoffs began today, the Vikings would grab the second wild card along with Seattle (9-5) because their conference record (6-5) is better than that of Dallas. The Giants, who are 7-4 in conference, and Bears would be eliminated via a division tiebreaker.
But with two weeks of games left to be played, the tiebreakers will shift and the Vikings can't count on anything besides their ability to follow the formula that has yielded their first winning streak since early October.
No matter how it turns out, they're back in the hunt a year ahead of schedule and coaches seem to have a grip on how this group, for all its flaws, can outdistance projections.
"Biggest win we've had around here in two or three years," Greenway said. "It was a great win for us, huge win on the road. (The Rams are) a team that's in the same position we're in.
"We've got to think that this game kept us relevant, kept us in discussion. Not sure where we end up after (Sunday), but we know we're in it. We've got to keep playing well."