ST. LOUIS - Well, well, well. What do we have here?
It's a week before Christmas and it appears we now have indisputable proof of a Vikings team making a serious charge at the playoffs, a team that understands its identity and is showing impressive depth and unity and all sorts of swagger.
On Sunday, the Vikings used all of that to beat the Rams 36-22 at the Edward Jones Dome and, with two games left, move into the final NFC wild-card playoff spot.
Dialed in from the start, they ignored their woeful 1-5 road record and instead granted coach Leslie Frazier's request for "a clean game."
That meant taking care of the ball -- which they did, not committing a turnover for just the third time this season.
It also meant delivering tide-turning plays on defense -- which the Vikings also did, sacking Sam Bradford four times and turning his two turnovers into 10 points.
Oh, and of course, it meant treating the people of St. Louis to the latest episode of "All Day Every Sunday" with Adrian Peterson blazing his way for 212 yards and a touchdown.
"Just an example of his greatness," Frazier said.
It's only natural that Peterson will hog the headlines and highlight reels. Deservedly so. In an MVP campaign that will be hard to derail, Peterson not only ran for 200 yards for the second time in three weeks, but he also delivered his two biggest runs in key moments.
Early in the second quarter, after St. Louis tied the score 7-7 and held Peterson to 8 yards on his first eight carries, the Vikings back uncorked an 82-yard touchdown run.
The hole on the right side was plowed open by Phil Loadholt, Geoff Schwartz and Kyle Rudolph. Fullback Jerome Felton also blew up linebacker James Laurinaitis on the second level. And with a runway between the hashes, Peterson took off like an F-16.
It matched the longest run of his career and put the Vikings ahead to stay. Yet somehow it was Peterson's second most important burst of the day.
The bigger one came in the fourth quarter, when the Rams trimmed a 26-point Vikings lead to 11 and the dome grew deafening. In what figured to be a consequential series, the Vikings naturally turned the playbook to No. 28's page.
This time, Peterson had no hole. In fact, Rams end Robert Quinn had his hands on Peterson 3 yards deep in the backfield.
Yet somehow, the Vikings star squirted free. Fifty-two yards later Janoris Jenkins pulled him down.
"How did he get out of that?" Frazier wondered. "He just continues to amaze you with some of his runs. It looked like there was nothing there. They really had it stifled. Next thing you know, he's out the back door with a 52-yard run."
The other three plays of that drive lost 5 yards. Yet Peterson's explosion set up a Blair Walsh 51-yard field goal.
"It's a train that can't be stopped," left tackle Matt Kalil said.
Added Rams coach Jeff Fisher: "He's the best there is right now."
Still, to focus exclusively on Peterson would unfairly snub all of Sunday's other big-time contributors. Walsh, for example, made five field goals -- from 50, 38, 42, 53 and 51 yards. He's now 8-for-8 from 50 yards or longer.
Linebacker Chad Greenway had 14 tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.
Also worthy of acclaim: defensive end Everson Griffen, whose biggest play came on a call of "Wide Blast, 23 Sky." With Antoine Winfield and Jasper Brinkley blitzing, Griffen dropped into coverage, slid underneath Lance Kendricks' route and made a nifty interception. Then he added a 29-yard run to the end zone and a slick dance he calls "The Sack Daddy."
Griffen gave the defense its second TD in two weeks and provided a 24-7 second-quarter lead.
"It was a dream come true," Griffen said. "I want to say 'Thank you, Sam Bradford.'"
Any recap of Sunday's victory would also be incomplete without acknowledging Frazier, whose decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 7 on the Vikings' first drive proved bold and energizing. The Vikings needed Christian Ponder's hectic 3-yard scramble to pick up the first down. But three plays later, Ponder ducked away from a Quinn sack and scored on a 5-yard run that set the tone.
"We wanted to be aggressive," Frazier said. "I talked to our players about it all week long, that we were going to be aggressive in every situation. And that was a chance to back up what I had said during the week."
The Vikings backed it all up Sunday, continuing to fight for a potential wild card invitation that once seemed unthinkable but is now within reach.
Dan Wiederer • firstname.lastname@example.org