With the New York Giants already comfortably in, the Minnesota Vikings pushed their way into the playoffs.
Ryan Longwell's 50-yard field goal with 5 seconds left lifted the Vikings to a 20-19 victory over the resting Giants on Sunday afternoon, making Minnesota NFC North champions for its first postseason appearance in four years.
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 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.
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 last set of teammates to do that in the same season was Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner of the Cleveland Browns in 1985. The Vikings entered the game with the league's stingiest run defense, trying to finish first in that category for the third straight season.
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.
The crowd was loud at times, but a rather nervous vibe resonated throughout the building while fans undoubtedly fought off bad flashbacks of past late-season collapses by this star-crossed team.
The Bears game was mysteriously missing from the scroll on the scoreboard, adding to the anxiety.
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.
The Giants didn't flinch, though. They're the defending champs, after all.
Ward wiggled his way through the middle with Vikings anchor Pat Williams still missing because of a shoulder injury, putting Carney in range for three first-half field goals.
Peterson began the game with a 166-yard lead over Atlanta's Michael Turner for the NFL rushing title, a remarkable accomplishment in his second season that has lost some luster with his recent trouble hanging onto the ball. He also became the fifth player in league history to reach 3,000 yards in his first two years, joining Eric Dickerson (Rams), Edgerrin James (Colts), Earl Campbell (Oilers) and Clinton Portis (Broncos).
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)