The Vikings suffered a punch to the gut and a dagger to the heart in one week, falling at home to Seattle on Sunday and at Arizona Thursday, but they feel they have much to build on from the performance in the desert to keep a playoff spot from becoming a mirage.
Minnesota (8-5) has a "mini-bye" because of Thursday night's game, and plenty that went well to counterbalance inopportune moments at critical junctions.
The wide swath of outsiders wrote off this game before the Vikings went wheels up in the Twin Cities Wednesday.
We'll start with Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune's take on the performance that pushed the 11-2 Cardinals to the brink.
*Against Arizona, on the road, on a short week, without their three most important defensive players, a week after collapsing in the worst home loss of the season? *
*Athletes overuse the word "character." This week, the Vikings can use that word without sounding trite. *
"Against a playoff-caliber team, we're able to look back and say we got things going," Peterson said.
Souhan wrote Bridgewater "looked much sharper" in throwing for a career-high 335 yards, nearly double his 118 against the Seahawks and that the Vikings two best performances this season might be 23-20 losses at Denver and Arizona.
What appeared to be an unwinnable game turned into a drama. That didn't help the Vikings in this week's standings, but if they play like this the rest of the season, they'll make the playoffs for the second time since 2009, perhaps even earn their second playoff victory since 2004.
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune noted the skillset and size of Cardinals "money backer" Deon Bucannon, who's speed allows him to step into a multitude of roles for Arizona.
The Cardinals have quite a unique player in 6-1, 211-pound defender Deone Bucannon. Drafted as a safety in the first round a year ago, Bucannon is listed as the "$LB" – as in "money" backer. He's the leading tackler on the No. 4-ranked run defense, which was giving up just 89 yards per game. The Vikings, with some power formations and an extremely determined and healthy Adrian Peterson, exposed the drawback to having a 211-pound inside backer early on. Peterson attacked the middle of Arizona's defense on the first drive, running four times for 38 yards and a touchdown, mostly up the gut. With the Cardinals deep at safety, Bucannon was moved to linebacker when Daryl Washington was suspended and Sean Weatherspoon went down with a hamstring injury in training camp. Bucannon and the Cardinals tightened up after the first drive, holding Peterson to 31 yards on his final 19 carries. Bucannon also had a forced fumble on Jarius Wright in the red zone.
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press noted the milestone that Adrian Peterson reached in the first quarter with a score and his continued move up the NFL's list of all-time leading rushers.
*In a 23-20 loss to Arizona on Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, Peterson became the 23rd [and 13th running back] player in NFL history to score 100 touchdowns. He reached the milestone on a 9-yard run in the first quarter. *
"Coming out with a loss is a lot rougher, but it feels good to kind of hit that milestone,'' Peterson said. "But I'll definitely take a win over this.''
Peterson carried 23 times for 69 yards to raise his career rushing total to 11,441. He moved into 17th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list, passing Steven Jackson, who gained 11,388 yards from 2004-14.
What it means
ESPN.com's Ben Goessling put the close loss in context regarding the goals that are still within reach for the Vikings:
*In reality, Thursday's game wasn't going to make or break the Vikings' playoff hopes. They're almost assured of a postseason berth if they take care of their next two home games against the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, and with 10 days to get healthy, they'll head into that stretch with about as many positive feelings as can be gained from a three-point loss on the road. *
*What it means: The Vikings are 8-5; they're a half-game behind the Green Bay Packers, who play the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field on Sunday. The Vikings would fall to the sixth spot in the NFC playoff race if Seattle wins on Sunday, but no other team behind them is better than 6-6 at the moment.
Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com noted the combination effort from the Vikings three tight ends in the passing game against an active and aggressive secondary:
Big guys involved — With Patrick Peterson shadowing Stefon Diggs for most of the game, Bridgewater's longest completions went to tight ends. He looked much more comfortable in a game plan that had him dumping the ball off to big targets. Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt and Rhett Ellison combined for nine catches and 144 yards, including a 41-yard screen to Ellison, the longest catch of his career.