MINNEAPOLIS - With the New York Giants already comfortably in, the Minnesota Vikings pushed their way into the playoffs - and a date next week with the Eagles.
Ryan Longwell's 50-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Vikings to a 20-19 victory over the resting Giants yesterday afternoon, making Minnesota NFC North champions for its first postseason appearance in four years.
"They had to earn it, as it should be, and that makes it that much sweeter," coach Brad Childress said.
David Carr took over at quarterback for Eli Manning after halftime and threw a touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon midway through the third quarter to take a 16-10 lead, but New York (12-4) was on cruise control from there with a bunch of backups on the field. The Giants clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs after last week's overtime win over Carolina.
The Vikings (10-6), who pulled within two points on a 54-yard touchdown pass by Tarvaris Jackson to a wide-open Bernard Berrian after third-string cornerback Terrell Thomas fell down, weren't complaining.
Jackson threw his first interception in 13 quarters since taking over for Gus Frerotte, a zinger into the end zone that James Butler grabbed and returned to near midfield. John Carney's fourth field goal stretched the lead to 19-10 early in the fourth, but his fifth attempt from 48 yards was wide right with 3:17 left.
The Vikings crawled through a frantic, unorganized final drive and got just close enough for Longwell to kick the winner.
"I think this game's going to build character and give us something to reflect back on," defensive end Jared Allen said.
Derrick Ward, who fueled last week's win over Carolina with a career-high 215 yards, gave the Giants a pair of 1,000-yard rushers - only the fourth running back tandem in NFL history - by finishing with 77 yards on 15 carries. (Brandon Jacobs got there earlier this month.)
The Giants gave the Vikings a break well before the game started by beating the Panthers last week and locking up the NFC's top seed. They put four starters on the inactive list: Jacobs (knee), tight end Kevin Boss (ankle), cornerback Aaron Ross (concussion) and nose tackle Barry Cofield (knee).
Manning was joined on the sideline by a steady stream of other regulars during the second half.
Adrian Peterson fumbled for the sixth time this month on third and 1 late in the first quarter, but Jim Kleinsasser recovered for a first down. Peterson made up for his mishandle on the next possession by bursting through the line on another third and 1 and using a block by Kleinsasser to race for the end zone and land in the first row of seats with a flying leap for a 10-0 lead.
"It was rocky," Peterson said, "but we continued to fight.