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Updated: December 31st, 2012 12:49am
Pelissero: Riding upset wave, Vikings believe 'nobody can stop us'

Pelissero: Riding upset wave, Vikings believe 'nobody can stop us'

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Brian Robison's severely sprained right shoulder felt OK during the first half on Sunday.

By the third quarter, though, the painkilling shot Robison took to play in the Minnesota Vikings' biggest game in three years was starting to wear off, every collision a reminder he probably wouldn't have put himself through this in any other situation.

"I felt like someone had a saw going into my arm, and it was just cutting it little by little," Robison said, strapped with ice, after the Vikings roared into the playoffs by outgunning the rival Green Bay Packers 37-34 at the Metrodome.

"It wasn't a fun second half, but that's what I signed up for. Sometimes, you've got to play through those things and just keep pushing through."

It was only fitting Robison created the game's only takeaway at a critical juncture as the Vikings capped one four-game win streak with designs on starting a new one against these same Packers on Saturday at Lambeau Field.

Adrian Peterson gutted it out through abdominal pain to cap his MVP campaign with 199 yards on 34 carries, carrying another heavy load and scoring twice for a team that keeps surviving every blow to its health and momentum.

One week after upsetting mighty Houston on the road, the Vikings returned to the Metrodome and toppled the NFC North Division champs hours after Chicago's victory at Detroit erased their chances of sneaking into the No. 6 seed with a loss.

"We've been in one-game seasons, literally," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "If we lost any of those games, we're out. Look at how the chips fell.

"Two tough road games. We had to go get those. Two big division games at home. We've played playoff football for a month. We respect the Packers and what they're about, but we certainly can't be scared of anybody."

And they shouldn't be -- not with the way they've seemed to come of age while dispatching of four foes (Chicago, St. Louis, Houston and Green Bay) who finished a combined 40-23-1 and came in as favorites.

The Vikings have been underdogs all season and will be for as long as they can extend a playoff berth that begins at the site of their last loss.

"We just have to stick to our game plan and dominate like we did (Sunday)," end Everson Griffen said. "If we keep on doing that, nobody can stop us."

Blair Walsh's 54-yard field goal on the opening series gave the Vikings a 3-0 lead and they never trailed, though the Packers twice knotted the score -- the latter on Jordy Nelson's 2-yard touchdown catch from Aaron Rodgers with 2 minutes, 54 seconds to go.

Christian Ponder pumped Michael Jenkins open against zone coverage for a 25-yard gain on third-and-11 after the 2-minute warning and Peterson got the ball the next four snaps, the last a lead play he took for 26 to set up Walsh's 29-yard winner.

Ponder finished 16-of-28 passing (57.1%) for 234 yards, three touchdowns and a career-high 120.2 rating, four weeks after his two awful interceptions at Lambeau squandered a 14-10 lead in the third quarter and left the Vikings reeling at 6-6.

"Everyone stayed the course," Ponder said. "There was a huge emphasis on treating each of the last four games like a playoff game, because if we were to lose one, we probably wouldn't make the playoffs. Everyone came to work and had the right mindset."

Jarius Wright had a 65-yard catch to set up another touchdown in a wild fourth quarter on Sunday, with Vikings fans amidst the lively crowd of 64,134 trying to shout down "Go Pack Go!" chants after Mason Crosby's 40-yard field goal tied it at 27 with 12:25 left.

Before that, it was Robison's turn to halt the visitors' momentum, leaning that bad shoulder into right tackle Don Barclay to get the corner for a sack and fumble Jamarca Sanford recovered with Green Bay driving towards a potential go-ahead touchdown.

"We get to go back home, and the game will be different," Rodgers said. "They won't have home crowd advantage, and hopefully, that will make a difference."

Injuries could play a role, too. The Packers have been getting healthier, with linebacker Clay Matthews and receiver Jordy Nelson returning in recent weeks. And the Vikings, charmed for so much of the season, limped out of this rematch.

Rodgers did much of his damage (28-of-40 passing, 365 yards, four touchdowns, 131.8 rating) after cornerback Antoine Winfield's hand became too swollen and sore for him to continue, leaving Marcus Sherels on slot duty and the defense in disarray.

Safety Harrison Smith missed time with a stinger. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson turned an ankle. Linebacker Tyrone McKenzie hurt a shoulder, depleting coverage units that proved more pregnable than usual. Center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt got banged up, too.

Winfield's chances for playing on Saturday appear questionable at best, potentially leaving the Vikings to face one of the NFL's most potent passing attacks again without their best tackler and most reliable player on the back end.

"I don't think we're going to overthink it," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It's our third time playing them, and from our vantage point, I don't think it matters who we're playing.

"We're happy to be playing this game and we're looking forward to going and getting a win no matter who the team is, who the opponent is. It just so happens to be Green Bay. We're not going into this with any other goal than winning and continue to win."

Robison was noncommittal about his own status for Saturday -- "Going to do the best I can," he said -- but it's a safe bet he'll find his way into the next biggest game the Vikings have had in three years.

Win in Green Bay, and it'd be on to Atlanta, where the sixth-seeded Packers upset the Falcons two years ago to propel an unlikely Super Bowl run their rivals can't help but think about with the way they're playing right now.

"They've got a little bit of upper leg because we're going to their house," Robison said. "It's going to be cold. But bottom line is I feel like we've been in playoffs for the last four weeks. We've got four more to go."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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