Updated: 11/11/2012 4:27 PM KSTP.com
Adrian Peterson gave Minnesota another injury-defying performance. This time, Christian Ponder and the rest of the Vikings provided the necessary balance.
Peterson raced 61 yards for the game-sealing touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, padding his NFL rushing lead with 171 yards on 27 carries for the Vikings in a 34-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon.
Peterson had 120 yards in the final 15 minutes, 10½ months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee. Ponder bounced back from a rough game with 221 yards and two touchdowns on 24-for-32 passing for the Vikings (6-4).
Rookie Jarius Wright filled in for injured standout Percy Harvin and scored in his first NFL game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph had a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, too. Ponder passed for almost as many yards in the first quarter of this game (57) as he did last week at Seattle (6-3).
But with the Vikings, it always comes back to Peterson. He has 353 yards in the last two games.
Calvin Johnson had 207 yards on 12 catches, including a touchdown that brought the Lions (4-5) a little closer with 1:53 left. But Johnson's lost fumble near midfield on the previous possession put Vikings rookie Blair Walsh in position for his fourth field goal.
Matthew Stafford threw touchdown passes to Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young to cap quick 80-plus-yard drives in the second half, fueled by Johnson and his ailing left knee that sure didn't look too bad. Their sluggish start, though, was too much to overcome.
The Lions lost defensive end Cliff Avril in the third quarter to a possible concussion, and cornerback Chris Houston left on a cart with what was announced as an ankle injury.
Winning this game was critical for both teams and their quest to make the playoffs, which for the Lions would be their first consecutive appearances since three in a row from 1993-95 and for the Vikings would be their first since Brett Favre's renaissance in 2009.
The rest of the schedule is brutal on each side. Detroit's remaining opponents took a combined 44-16 record into Sunday, and Detroit plays Green Bay and Houston next. The Lions can play five of their last seven contests at home, however.
The Vikings face four of their final six on the road, with their only home games against Chicago and Green Bay. Their remaining foes had a 36-14 mark, entering the weekend. To have a fighting chance in this challenging stretch, the Vikings badly needed a boost for Ponder and their ragged passing scheme.
With Harvin unable to play because of a sprained left ankle, Wright made his first career catch count, flying past strong safety Erik Coleman on a post route to grab one of Ponder's best throws of the last month. After being brought down at the goal line and scooped up in a bear hug by fellow wide receiver Jerome Simpson, the fourth-round draft pick from Arkansas caught a 3-yard pass in the corner three plays later for the 7-0 lead.
The defense has been in a slump, too, failing to force a turnover in either of the previous two games and allowing four straight 100-yard rushers. Progress was made there, too. Chad Greenway's interception set up Walsh's first field goal. Mikel Leshoure's team-leading total was 43 yards rushing.
Given the favorable field position the Vikings had throughout the afternoon and the five times they had to use punter Chris Kluwe, their inability to break the game open was another sign of the flaws lingering on offense when Peterson isn't galloping through the secondary for huge gains.
They dropped three passes in the first half. They wiped out what would've been a first down to Rudolph at the Lions 26 early in the third quarter with an illegal formation penalty. They heard boos when a safe third-and-goal throw over the middle to Toby Gerhart gained only half the needed yardage, bringing Walsh out again.
But in the end, Peterson was there to clean up any of the gaffes. This was his third straight game with a 60-yard gain or longer.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)