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Playoff picture clear as mud

Vikings putting the 'wild' into wild-card battle

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HOUSTON -- Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier knows all that's ahead this week, most notably a gigantic regular-season finale at Mall of America Field against the rival Packers with a playoff berth on the line.

"If you were going to write a script," Frazier said, "this is the way you'd want it to be done."

Rebuilding year? Maybe to the outside world.

But now the surging Vikings are 9-6 and in the middle of a wild-card battle royale.

One final weekend remains in the quest to gain admittance into the exclusive postseason bracket, and if the Vikings beat the Packers, they will make the postseason.

Still, in a dark and quiet interview room below Reliant Stadium, Frazier did not want to fast-forward too quickly, still too enraptured by his team's 23-6 destruction of the Texans to give too much thought to next week's win-and-advance showdown with Green Bay.

"We'll deal with that one after 24 hours of jubilation," Frazier insisted. "I don't want to think too far ahead. I want to bask in the glory of this win on the road."

Who could blame the usually tranquil coach for wanting to bounce through the roof? Throughout Sunday afternoon his hungry Vikings delivered so many energizing moments.

There was the 78-yard touchdown march on the first possession, a drive on which Christian Ponder completed all three of his passes for 62 yards, including a 3-yard score to Kyle Rudolph.

Not bad for a newly married quarterback who could have been flustered by a feisty Texans defense. Instead, Ponder (16-for-30, 174 yards, 48 rushing yards) appeared in control much of the day.

"I think not being single has been a plus for him," Frazier joked about his newly married quarterback.

More significantly, Frazier's defense locked with its most dominant effort this season. It wasn't just that the Vikings held Houston to 187 yards and six points -- 22 below its season average -- it's that they played smart, fast and ultra-physical.

There were fumbles forced by Jasper Brinkley and Harrison Smith with recoveries by A.J. Jefferson and Everson Griffen. And there was impressive discipline used to stifle Houston's running attack.

Arian Foster, the AFC's leading rusher coming into the day, managed 15 yards on 10 carries.

"There was a focus on being physical," Brinkley said. "And you have to be hungry. Everybody took the challenge. The d-line got their penetration up front and didn't get reach. And that's the way to shut that zone scheme off."

Still, arguably no play was more important than Fred Evans' third-down sack of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub with a minute left in the third quarter. Houston had driven to the Vikings 1, just missing out on a touchdown when Smith tackled Kevin Walter an instant before he could extend the ball across the goal line. With a quicker reach, Houston could have closed to within 16-13.

Instead, the Vikings dug in on three consecutive goal-to-go plays from the 1, with Evans taking advantage of Kevin Williams' inside push and knifing in to take down Schaub.

-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2012 C1

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