HOUSTON - The heavy focus on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and the Texans' pursuit of home-field advantage in the playoffs was warranted. Understandably overlooked as significant was the Vikings defense, which played a major role on Sunday.
The Vikings shackled the Texans' sixth-ranked offense and kept alive their postseason aspirations despite a pedestrian performance by Peterson, grinding out a 23-6 victory over Houston at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
Peterson entered play with 1,812 rushing yards and within shouting distance of the single-season NFL record of 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. The Texans made Peterson labor for his 86 yards, but their inability to control Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder proved to be their undoing. Ponder effectively set the table for rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who drilled three field goals for the Vikings (9-6).
The Texans (12-3) needed to win to secure the top overall seed in the AFC. But after marching downfield to score on their opening possession, the Texans stalled repeatedly and didn't score again until kicker Shayne Graham hit a 33-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the third period.
That drive was a microcosm of the Texans' ineffective offense. Pressed into a sense of urgency, the Texans surged into the red zone after starting from their 39-yard line, and nearly sliced the Vikings' 16-3 lead to one score before Kevin Walter was tackled at the one-yard line.
That yard was monumental. The Vikings had dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting the Texans to 36 rushing yards on 15 attempts. Facing first-and-goal, the Texans attempted just one running play - backup Ben Tate was stuffed for no gain on second down - and settled for that Graham kick after Fred Davis sacked Matt Schaub for a 14-yard loss on third down. The Texans failed to fashion a threat in the fourth.
Ponder finished 16-for-30 for 174 yards and a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. He also rushed for 51 yards on five carries and nimbly avoided pressure from the Texans' celebrated front seven.
The Vikings limited the Texans to just 187 yards and 11 first downs.
NOTES: Walsh set an NFL record with his ninth field goal of 50 yards or more this season, kicking a 56-yarder at the 8:15 mark of the second quarter. ... With his five-yard reception on the Texans' second play from scrimmage, receiver Andre Johnson became the 25th player in NFL history with 800 career receptions. Johnson did so in his 137th game. Only Marvin Harrison, who did it in 131 games, accomplished it faster. ... Rudolph closed to within two touchdowns of the Vikings team record for a tight end. Visanthe Shiancoe had 11 touchdowns in 2009.