EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -Adrian Peterson was, allegedly, Minnesota's only hope.
While the Vikings were winning their fourth straight game to take control of their playoff fate, the overwhelming favorite for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award was just some kid averaging a little more than 0.2 yards per carry.
Yes, believe it or not, this is where the Vikings (7-6) found themselves on Monday after a head-turning month that thrust them into the postseason race. This, in essence, is why the NFL is so wildly popular. What appears impossible one week can quickly become probable the next.
Peterson fell out of the league rushing lead after the San Francisco 49ers stuffed his 14 carries for a paltry 3 yards, but the rest of the team is playing well enough - or at least better than most of the NFC's mediocre competition - that his lack of production didn't even matter.
The Vikings used an 84-yard touchdown run by Chester Taylor, Peterson's teammate in the backfield, to build a 27-0 lead before halftime that allowed them to coast through the last 35 minutes. Minnesota has outscored its past three opponents 110-34.
``If teams try to stop Adrian, the rest of us can pick it up,'' Taylor said after Sunday's game. ``This whole team is capable of making big plays. You saw that on defense today, too.''
Though there was never any doubt about the outcome in San Francisco, the Vikings aren't without vulnerability. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, whose turnaround since the middle of November helped spark this resurgence, played another poised, confident game, but the kickoff coverage team gave up a pair of 55-yard returns.
Despite forcing five turnovers and scoring a touchdown on an interception return by Kevin Williams, the defense allowed some movement by a woeful offense that ranks last in the NFL in yards gained. Without Taylor's touchdown, the Vikings had only 33 yards rushing on 33 carries while the 49ers used a bevy of cornerback blitzes to help seal the outside.
``Outside of that run, I don't know what they really had,'' San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis said.
Coach Brad Childress, just like his 31 colleagues around the league, took time on Monday to point out that his team still has shortcomings.
``I'm going to prefer to stay on the positive end of things here. I'm not going to single those out for other people to hang their hat on. I'm just glad to see these guys evolving and just the consistency and the mind-set,'' Childress said.
Players were unavailable for comment, because they had the day off. They won't report for full practice until Thursday, because of the pushed-back schedule for next Monday night's home game against the fading Chicago Bears. They host the Washington Redskins and then play at the Denver Broncos to close the regular season.
It's a favorable finish, and now the Vikings must guard against overconfidence - a word that wasn't part of the lexicon around here a few short weeks ago - while they hear more and more praise from around the league.
``We didn't want to get sucker-punched by delusion,'' Childress said. ``If you identify the facts - and the facts are that we need to make sure we take care of business with the team that's up - as long as we deal with the next team we'll be fine.''
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