Adrian Peterson Comes Up Big as Vikings Win in Season Opener Over Jaguars [GAME NOTES+MORE]
Vikings open the game and the season on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis in front of an announced crowd of 56,607. As Minnesota (and most of the rest of the NFL) got “Back to Football”, a world of promise lay ahead for the purple and gold.
Looking on the opposite side of the field, the Jacksonville Jaguars seemed quite a bit like looking into a mirror for Minnesota – a second-year quarterback looking to prove his worth, a rushing powerhouse in the backfield, and lots of youth on both sides of the ball.
The similarities extend to the head coaches, with both being relatively young to their posts with their current teams. Leslie Frazier enters his second full year as head coach for Minnesota without any prior head coaching duties, while Mike Mularkey enters his first year with the Jaguars franchise as head coach, holding under his belt two seasons with the Buffalo Bills in the top coaching role. Beside this weekend’s matchup, Mularkey has a link to the Vikings, having played tight end for Minnesota between 1983 and 1988.
One of the biggest storylines entering the game was the announcement Adrian Peterson would be making his first start since injuring his knee last December. The team made the announcement earleir this week that it would be a gameday decision, and the team made the announcement official about an hour before gametime. He was the last player announced in the pregame festivities, and the crowd went wild as his name was called and he jogged on to the field.
The Vikings opened the game a 15-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph, but quickly lost steam, going 3-and-out and giving Jacksonville their first turn with the ball. This would develop into a trend for the half, as the next two Minnesota drives would end in 3-and-out situations and their fourth possession would end in only 6 plays and 24 yards.
Jacksonville proved to be marginally better on offense through the majority of the first half, going 77 yards on a 17-play drive that would lead to a 19-yard field goal and the first points of the game late in the first quarter. Skip one Jacksonville drive, and the Jaguars would be on the march again, going 78 yards in 11 plays for a 1-yard Mercedes Lewis touchdown pass. On the PAT, rookie lineman Matt Kalil made a big play blocking Josh Scobee’s kick and keeping the Jaguars under a double-digit lead.
Down 0-9 with the first half coming to a close, Christian Ponder completed 3 passes in a row to Percy Harvin, accounting for the first 32 yards of what would set up a 7-play, 59 yard drive ending in a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Adrian Peterson.
Coming out of the half down 7-9, Kevin Williams recovered a Blaine Gabbert fumble on the Jacksonville 44-yard line, opening the door for the Vikings to take the lead for the first time in the game. Adrian Peterson opened the drive with a 19-yard run as the Vikings looked to capitalize on the turnover. The big run from Peterson was followed up with a 19 yard pass to Percy Harvin and two short rushing attempts from Peterson, with the final one leading to the second Vikings touchdown of the game and a 14-9 lead.
Late in the third quarter, Christian Ponder got sacked on the Minnesota 16 yard line, fumbling the ball on the first play of the series, and setting up the Jaguars for what would be a 26-yard Jacksonville field goal.
Following up on the Jaguars closing the Vikings lead to 14-12, Christian Ponder and the rest of the Vikings offense picked up on the momentum from their previous scoring drive. As the series carried into the fourth quarter, the Vikings marched 75 yards in 11 plays including a 29-yard completion to Kyle Rudolph. The drive would end in a 20-yard Blair Walsh field goal, bringging the Vikings to 17-12. Through the majority of the remainder of the fourth quarter, Jacksonville and Minnesota would each score another field goal, keeping the game close at 20-15 in favor of the Vikings.
As the game closed in under one minute, Blaine Gabbert found a one-on-one opportunity with Chris Cook on Cecil Shorts III near the goal line, and Cook blew the coverage and allowed Shorts into the endzone to allow the Jaguars to go up 23-20 after a successful 2-point conversion. Cook’s miss came just moments after coming up big on the previous Jaguars drive, earning his first career sack which was for a loss of 11 yards.
With only 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Christian Ponder connected with Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and Kyle Rudolph for 6 yards to set up a 55-yard Blair Walsh game-saving field goal.
Things continued to go the way of the Vikings as they won the coin toss and marched down the field again. Adrian Peterson got 4 carries in the drive, including a 20-yard burst down the field as part of the 8-play, 55-yard drive that would set up a 38-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
This overtime period would be the first to exercise the new regular-season overtime rule, which says an overtime period will end after the first touchdown scored, or after a field goal and scoreless possession of the opposing offense. This rule, which was initially adopted for playoff games, was extended to regular season play starting this year.
With the fans going crazy, the Vikings defense held the Jaguars to 4 plays, 3 of which were incomplete passes. The defensive stop would end the game, and give the Vikings a 26-23 victory in their season opener.
The Vikings ended the game with 389 total yards, 266 through the air and 123 on the ground. After a question of whether or not Adrian Peterson would start, he rushed for a total of 88 yards and 2 touchdowns. In his performance, he also surpassed Robert Smith’s all-time Vikings rushing record with 6,836 yards in his 74th career game with the team.
In a post-game interview, Peterson said he knew he was ready to play all week long, and even though he felt a little bit of jitters on Friday and Saturday, he was excited to get back on the field and show fans he was ready.
Chris Cook commented on his first career sack, saying it felt good to finally join the sack club, but admittedly was unprepared because he had no post-sack celebration. Defensive end Brian Robison welcomed Cook to the sack club, but said until he [Cook] earns a few more, he’s not allowed to say much.
Hear post-game interview audio from Adrian Peterson, Christain Ponder, Chris Cook, Brian Robison, and more here.