Vikings 37, Packers 34
MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson picked up the Minnesota Vikings and gave them a ride to the playoffs, where the first stop on this improbable journey is, yes, Green Bay.
Peterson came up 9 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record, but he still powered the Vikings past the Packers 37-34 Sunday with 199 yards to set up a rematch next weekend in a first-round playoff game.
Peterson sliced through the line for a 27-yard gain in the closing seconds, his career-high 34th carry. That set up Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal as time expired and put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason after consecutive last-place finishes.
The division champion Packers (11-5) dropped to the NFC's No. 3 seed.
Aaron Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no turnovers, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson, providing the necessary balance.
Ponder didn't turn over the ball, either, and went 16 for 28 for 234 yards, including a 65-yard zinger in stride to Jarius Wright midway through the fourth quarter that set up Ponder's third touchdown toss.
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards, becoming the seventh player in NFL history to reach the 2,000 mark. He had to work for it, pulling out all the cutbacks, stutter-steps and spins he could find in his exceptional skill set. His longest run was only 28 yards against a defense geared to slow him down, and the first contact often came at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Packers cut the lead to 27-24 late in the third quarter on a touchdown reception by James Jones. The on-field ruling was a fumble at the goal line, triggering an automatic review. Because the Packers threw the challenge flag after the replay process began, however, they were only penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, not prevented from benefiting from the overturned call.
That's what happened to Detroit infamously on Thanksgiving, when a disputed score by Houston was prevented from review.
Vikings executives hollered at the officials' supervisor in the press box, and mild-mannered coach Leslie Frazier was screaming at referee Mike Carey in search of an explanation.
After posting a 9-23 record over the last two years, the Vikings made so many strides in 2012 that the season was already a success. But no NFL team would ever be satisfied by finishing in defeat against a division rival, and the emotion and energy behind the quest was palpable all afternoon.
Broncos 38, Chiefs 3
DENVER -- If he wants, Peyton Manning can use all that time at home to crank up the DVD player and watch the highlights.
What a set he put together for himself and his acrobatic receivers on Sunday.
Manning and the Denver Broncos wrapped up home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs with a predictable 38-3 runaway over the Kansas City Chiefs -- a win punctuated by a pair of touchdown passes as nifty as any of the 37 Manning threw this year for his new team, which closed the regular season on an 11-game win streak.
Touchdown No. 1 was a ball slightly overthrown to Eric Decker. He brought the ball into his helmet with his left hand, had it pinball against his facemask twice, then cradled it with both hands as he was falling to the ground.
Touchdown No. 2 was thrown high to Demaryius Thomas, who leaped in the back of the end zone, snatched it with his right hand and got his feet down inside the line.
That score made it 28-3 and the celebration was on. The only trip the Broncos (13-3) will have to make on their road to a championship would be to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. They'll open the playoffs at home the weekend of Jan. 12-13.
Coach John Fox, in search of his second trip to the Super Bowl, won his 100th career game. Thomas and linebacker Wesley Woodyard congratulated him with a big splash of orange Gatorade at the end.
Manning, in search of his fifth MVP award and, yes, a second Super Bowl title, finished 23 for 29 for 304 yards, three scores and a 144.8 passer rating. Those stats easily could've been padded had he played the fourth quarter.
Patriots 28, Dolphins 0
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So much for the Patriots' problems.
Rebounding from a rare slump, Tom Brady and his teammates earned a playoff bye with a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday after two mediocre performances.
Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns as New England used a ball-control offense and a defense that racked up a season-high seven sacks.
Now, seeded second in the AFC, the Patriots have an extra week to savor the win and prepare for their postseason opener.
The Patriots (12-4) led 21-0 at halftime on Brady's 9-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker and Ridley's runs of 1 and 2 yards, capping drives lasting 14 and 13 plays. They ended the scoring on Brady's 23-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski, who missed the previous five games after breaking his left forearm.
The Dolphins (7-9) finished with a losing record for the fourth straight season.
The victory came after the AFC East champion Patriots started poorly in their previous two games, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 41-34 before beating the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars 23-16.
And after each touchdown, fans tossed into the air some of the snow that was left over from an overnight accumulation of about 6 inches.
The Patriots began the day seeded third, but gained one of the AFC's two byes when they won after the AFC South champion Houston Texans lost and fell from first to third in the conference standings.
Vikings 37, Packers 34