Stung by late lapses vs. Seahawks, Vikings try to move on
''It hurts, but what can you do?'' Peterson said, reflecting on the crushing 10-9 loss to Seattle in the wild-card round on Sunday in the cold air as bitter during the game as the defeated feelings afterward.
Now 1-3 in his career in the postseason, Peterson probably won't have many more chances to improve upon that record.
So it's hardly exaggerating to suggest 2016 will be a big year for the Vikings and their workhorse running back as they move into a new stadium and try to take another step or two.
''I already set my top goal for next year, to win the NFC North and playing in the Super Bowl in Houston,'' Peterson said, with a lilt in his voice as he mentioned the city in his home state where he spends the offseason.
In many ways, Peterson's performance mirrored Minnesota's this season. Unspectacular, but quality and steady.
His body refreshed from the unexpected late-career break and his mind determined to prove he can still thrive on the field past age 30, let alone his drive to put the fallout from the child-abuse case against him in the past, Peterson played in every game. He hadn't accomplished that since 2012. He's done so four times in the NFL.
His 1,485 yards led the league, his third rushing title, and he posted seven 100-yard games.
Only three times, excluding the game Sunday against the Seahawks, did he finish with fewer than 60 yards rushing.
Those games, not coincidentally, were the worst losses of the season by the Vikings, at San Francisco in the opener, against Green Bay and in the first matchup with Seattle.
The Vikings went only 2-4 against teams that made the playoffs, but the only time they stumbled against a non-qualifier was against the 49ers in that late Monday game on the West Coast.
Not only did they maintain consistency in this parity-painted, unpredictable league, the Vikings overtook the rival Packers for the NFC North title and finished 11-5.
This, the second year under coach Mike Zimmer, was an unquestionable success. The hard part, though, was finding a way to get past the late lapses against the Seahawks. As players packed up Monday and exchanged goodbyes, the game still stung.
''It'll take a while for me. I take this loss hard. I'm an older guy,'' cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. ''You never know when you're going to get the opportunity to get back in this situation. But it's definitely going to motivate me this offseason to get back to the grind to play like I did this year.''
Here are some key developments from this season for the Vikings that will remain relevant moving forward:
PETERSON PROTECTING THE BALL: Peterson's fumble, his 41st in 125 games, set up the go-ahead field goal for the Seahawks. He was quick to mention ball security on Monday when asked what improvements he needs to make, acknowledging he's taken for granted the amount of fumbles of his the Vikings have recovered. They've lost 23 of them.
''When it comes back and it bites you in this type of way, it's something I want to put an emphasis on for this offseason,'' Peterson said.
MATURING BRIDGEWATER: The growing pains for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remained, but he mostly performed well down the stretch while the Vikings were trying to secure their spot in the playoffs. Zimmer has occasionally prodded him to be more assertive, and Bridgewater said he'll keep working on that.
''The guys know that I'm a genuine guy. When I do say something it speaks volumes,'' Bridgewater said. ''I'm in a position right now where I get to lead this group of men in this locker room, and I'm glad to be in this position.''
LOOKING BACK: The only other times the Vikings had a record better than 11-5 since the 1976 season, their last of four Super Bowl appearances, were 1998 and 2009 when they suffered overtime losses in the NFC championship games.
GREENWAY GONE?: Linebacker Chad Greenway, the longest-tenured player on the team, said after the game he didn't want his 10th year to end on such a tough loss. His contract will expire, but considering he held his own in a reduced role and Zimmer's fondness of him, there could be a spot for him again.
''There's enough football left in me to play another season and try to go out differently,'' Greenway said.
HAPPY NEW YEAR: The Vikings, who will have the 23rd pick in the first round of the draft this spring, have a busy year ahead with their move into U.S. Bank Stadium. In addition to the usual home-and-away series with their division foes, here are their 2016 opponents: at Carolina, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Tennessee and Washington, and hosting Arizona, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis and the New York Giants.
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