MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson’s first carry of the afternoon was unremarkable in style, a simple 4-yard gain after a stutter step at the line of scrimmage.
But the Minnesota crowd realized the significance and cheered Peterson almost as loudly as when he sprinted out of the tunnel during the pregame introduction. The Vikings star returned without any trouble, rewarding his team’s trust in his repaired left knee with a typical two-touchdown performance.
Rookie Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation ended and another in overtime, and Peterson returned a little more than eight months after reconstructive surgery to lift the Vikings to a 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Fittingly, Peterson was more upset about the hole he missed on his first run than relieved his first real rushing attempt ended without harm.
“I just went out and played. I knew the structure of the ligament was good,” said Peterson, who finished with 84 yards on 17 attempts about 8 1/2 months after tearing his ACL. His runs of 10 and 20 yards set up Walsh’s 38-yard kick after the Vikings won the overtime coin toss.
Blaine Gabbert’s 39-yard touchdown and 2-point conversion passes with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Jaguars a 23-20 lead, sending a stunned silence over the crowd after the Vikings led for most of the second half.
“I thought he took a step forward today, because this is a tough place to play,” said new coach Mike Mularkey.
But in overtime when the Jaguars had their chance to match — the first time under the NFL rule installed last year that the first team to score didn’t immediately run off the field a winner — Gabbert was hurried into a fourth-down overthrow. After calmly completing a bundle of clutch passes earlier in the game, Gabbert misfired on all three of his throws on the final drive.
Coming off the worst passer rating in the league in his rookie year, Gabbert was much better, going 23 for 39 for 260 yards and two scores without an interception. But he dropped a snap in the third quarter that was recovered at the Jaguars 44 to set up Peterson’s second touchdown run.
“The players are too talented in this league to kind of take a breath,” Gabbert said. “So you’ve just got to fight through that.”
Peterson’s Superman-like leap over the line from 2 yards out gave the Vikings a 14-9 lead he celebrated with a somersault up from the turf. His first score helped wipe out a bad first half for the home team, bringing the Vikings within 9-7 with 41 seconds left.
This from a guy the Vikings refused to grant clearance, at least publicly, until the morning of the game.