TOP 20 GAMES OF 2012


Game 3: Packers at Vikings Week 17


In our list of the Top Games of 2012, No. 7 featured one guy, Reggie Wayne, taking over a game to win for his ailing head coach and his pesky team, the Indianapolis Colts.

Well, No. 3 features a guy in Adrian Peterson who took over not just that one game -- with a playoff spot hanging in the balance -- but an entire season for the similarly pesky Minnesota Vikings. Not a lot of people expected Minnesota to make the postseason, much less win 10 games -- but there they were in Week 17, facing the big, bad Green Bay Packers with a chance to do both.

On NFL Network NFL Replay will re-air the three best games of 2012 according to Elliot Harrison on Saturday, June 1.

Game 3: 4 p.m. ET; Packers at Vikings in Week 17

Game 2: 5:30 p.m. ET; game to be revealed May 30

Game 1: 8 p.m. ET; game to be revealed May 31

Led by their usually explosive offense, the Packers were expected to bring the fireworks, and they didn't disappoint. This was particularly true of Aaron Rodgers, who completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught two of those, with his first getting the Pack back in the game after they'd fallen behind, 13-0. Jennings' second scoring catch came on the first drive of the second half, pulling Green Bay to 20-17.

Why all this catching up? Because Peterson was in the process of destroying the Packers, just as he had with 210 yards rushing against Green Bay earlier in December, and just as he had done to the rest of the league over the previous two months, to the point that he was threatening Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards.

Peterson made his push for the record in the first half of this one, knocking around Packers defenders for 91 yards at well over 5 yards per crack. Green Bay simply couldn't stop him.

Most Rushing Yards, Single Season – NFL History
Eric Dickerson, 1984 2,105
Adrian Peterson, 2012 2,097
Jamal Lewis, 2003 2,066
Barry Sanders, 1997 2,053
Terrell Davis, 1998 2,008
Chris Johnson, 2009 2,006
O.J. Simpson, 1973
Earl Campbell, 1980 1,934
Barry Sanders, 1994 1,883
Ahman Green, 2003 1,883

The Packers had entered this terrific contest with an 11-4 record and a half-game lead over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC standings. A win would have given them wild-card weekend off. Green Bay played like it was a playoff game -- yet it still couldn't slow Peterson.

The Vikings, meanwhile, had to have this game to even make the postseason. So the league MVP played like it was his Super Bowl, cutting so sharp on some runs you found yourself worrying about his surgically repaired knee. He dispensed first contact when he deemed it necessary. In the same way that Wayne had victimized the Packers earlier in the year, the future Hall of Fame running back was taking matters into his own hands.

Adrian Peterson rushed for a total of 409 yards in two games against the Packers during the regular season.

Literally. Minnesota answered Jennings' third-quarter touchdown with a scoring march that culminated in a Peterson touchdown catch, making it 27-17, Vikings.

I'm not trying to suggest that Peterson had no help. His reception was only possible because quarterback Christian Ponder put the ball right in Peterson's hands -- one of several big plays Minnesota's quarterback directed in this contest (see below). The drive itself started when Brian Robison sacked and stripped Rodgers, with Jared Allen recovering at midfield.

What made this game so fun to watch was Green Bay's propensity for answering. After Peterson's scoring grab, Rodgers led the Packers on two subsequent marches, one resulting in a James Jones touchdown and the other in a Mason Crosby field goal. Ponder answered Rodgers' answer, hitting Michael Jenkins in the end zone to make it 34-27, Vikings. Of course, Rodgers and the Packers offense responded in kind, this time with a 78-yard drive and a Jordy Nelson touchdown.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense had an answer for Adrian Peterson all afternoon. Unfortunately for them, it was Peterson who had the last word.

That's when Peterson said, "Enough already". With the game tied at 34, Peterson ran five times for 36 yards when the Vikes simply had to have it. With a huge completion on third-and-long to Jenkins sandwiched in between Peterson's runs, the Vikings were in position.

Bring out the rookie kicker, Blair Walsh. From 29 yards out, he was so money he didn't even know he was money. So was Peterson, who ran for 199 yards and caught a touchdown pass in a huge football game. It was, well, an MVP-caliber performance.

If there was a drawback to our Third Top Game of 2012, it was only that Peterson had to quit running so that the kicker could do his thing. Thus, Dickerson's record lives -- at least until we do this list next year.

Boneheaded-ness: Packers coach Mike McCarthy pulled a Schwartz (as opposed to having the Schwartz) and threw a challenge flag on what became Jones' touchdown in the third quarter -- even though the replay booth was already reviewing the on-field ruling that Jones had fumbled the football in the process of extending it toward the goal line. It was a potentially serious mistake; because all turnovers require an automatic review, the coach was prohibited from throwing the flag. However, as the review had been initiated before McCarthy let the flag go, the review proceeded and the call was overturned, giving Jones his 14th touchdown of the season and bringing the Pack to within three at 27-24.

Considering how much attention a similar gaffe by Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz received on Thanksgiving, it was pretty boneheaded for McCarthy to toss the red hankie. What was genius, however, was Packers receiver Jordy Nelson slyly running over to the flag, picking it up and trying to hide it in the hopes of avoiding a penalty.

Did You Know? Jones had 14 touchdown receptions to lead the NFL – without even sniffing 1,000 yards receiving.

Can't Miss Play: Ponder hasn't exactly been getting love notes from NFL analysts – or closet NFL analysts – around the country. But in a tie game in the fourth quarter, and with a playoff spot on the line, Ponder made a throw that a lot of other NFL quarterbacks don't make.

Watch his 65-yarder to Jarius Wright here. That's throwing the deep ball. Ponder-to-Wright would lead to a Ponder-to-Jenkins touchdown later in the drive -- yet another extremely accurate throw.

Historical Symmetry: One thing all of the 2,000-yard rushers have in common is that they've ended their storybook seasons with a bang. Peterson finished his 2,000-yard campaign with a 199-yard outing -- the second highest total on the last day of a 2,000-yard season, behind O.J. Simpson, who had 200 in 1973.

Ironically, Dickerson is the only running back who didn't have a huge day on the last weekend of his 2,000-yard year; the Goggled One produced just 98 rushing yards against the San Francisco 49ers during Week 16 in 1984. Of course, we should cut Dickerson some slack, as that Niners team -- which won the Super Bowl in a blowout and became the first squad to finish 18-1 -- might have been the best in NFL history.

Best Player on the Field: Next question.

After carrying the Vikings to the playoffs on his shoulders, Adrian Peterson's teammates returned the favor.

Why This Game is No. 3: Long-time divisional rivals who've been playing each other for more than 50 years, facing off with a playoff spot and positioning on the line … oh, and the best player in the NFL going for one of pro football's sexiest records?

Come on. Packers-Vikings Week 17 was a shoo-in, and in any other year, it might have topped our list.

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