First Down/Fourth Down: Adrian Peterson nearly matches Eric Dickerson
For as much as he wanted to reach 2,000 yards rushing this season and, then, to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record, Adrian Peterson maintained his primary focus for Week 17 was getting his Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs.
And, as if proving that point, Peterson had no idea how close he was to Dickerson's mark of mark of 2,105 yards until FOX's Pam Oliver told him immediately after Minnesota's clutch 37-34 win.
"Nine yards, what?" Peterson asked, stunned.
Peterson may have needed just one more carry to replace Dickerson in the record books. His last attempt Sunday, though, was as important as they come.
With the Vikings in need of a win to clinch a playoff spot and Minnesota's game with Green Bay tied in the closing seconds, Peterson ripped off an electrifying 20-yard run to give Blair Walsh a chip-shot field goal.
Walsh hit it, and Peterson's storybook season will now continue for at least one more week.
The rest of Week 17's highs and lows ...
First Down: Eric Decker
The Denver Broncos have had some very talented pass-catchers during their history -- Rod Smith, Brandon Marshall, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe and so on. None of those players accomplished what Eric Decker did Sunday.
With the first of his two TD grabs in Denver's 38-3 rout of Kansas City, Decker became the first Bronco ever to record 20 touchdown catches over a two-year span. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher hauled in eight touchdowns last season, as the Broncos used Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton at quarterback, and finished with 13 scores this year.
Fourth Down: The Houston Texans.
Even after a 42-10 Week 14 drubbing in New England, the Texans had the inside track on the AFC's No. 1 seed. Losses to Minnesota and Indianapolis to close the regular season changed all that.
Thanks to a 28-16 loss Sunday to a Colts team that had nothing to play for except pride and returning coach Chuck Pagano, the Texans coughed away their first-round bye. Instead of enjoying a first-round bye and hosting two games at home, the Texans now have to take part in the wild-card round and face possible road games in New England and Denver en route to the Super Bowl.
First Down: The Giants' Sandy Hook tribute.
Pagano's first game back after battling leukemia made for an emotional day in Indianapolis (more on that in a minute), but nothing topped the pregame ceremony at the Meadowlands on Sunday.
Before the Giants blew out the hapless Eagles, approximately 400 parents, students and faculty members from Sandy Hook Elementary School were invited onto the field as honorary guests. That large group formed human tunnels for the players to run through as they came out of the locker room. After that, the Giants, Eagles and all of the Sandy Hook representatives joined hands for a moment of silence.
There have been a number of Sandy Hook tributes since that fateful day just a few weeks back at the Connecticut school. None has matched the Giants' tribute.
Fourth Down: New Orleans' defense.
And with that, the Saints broke the 1981 Baltimore Colts record for the most yards allowed in a season. Saints' opponents tallied 7,042 yards in 2012, easily clearing the 6,793 that 2-14 Colts team allowed.
First Down: Tennessee's ability to score without needing an offense.
How bizarre was the Titans' 38-20 win over Jacksonville? Well, during a stretch from the second quarter into the third, Tennessee put up 28 points ... and never ran an offensive play. Twice during that amazing spurt, Darrius Reynaud took punts back for scores (69 yards and 81), and linebacker Zach Brown matched him by turning a pair of Chad Henne interceptions into pick-6s.
Reynaud and Brown became the first teammates in NFL history with multi-TD return plays in the same game.
Fourth Down: The NFL rule book.
Jim Schwartz's Thanksgiving Day miscue, in which he negated an important review by throwing a challenge flag illegally, was one of the more unusual moments of the season. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy nearly reenacted it Sunday, only to be saved by a ridiculous caveat to a stupid rule.
After what looked like a James Jones touchdown was ruled a fumble and turnover, McCarthy fired his challenge flag -- the same mistake Schwartz made. Except, unlike Schwartz, McCarthy's error occurred after the replay booth had buzzed referee Mike Carey for a review. That split-second difference meant that Carey could still look at the play, and that McCarthy would earn a 15-yard penalty instead of overriding the replay process.
Confused? You should be. The NFL rule book is rather absurd.
First Down: Chuck Pagano's celebration.
Whether you're a Colts fan or not, seeing Pagano dancing in his team's locker room following a win Sunday had to make you smile. Pagano is less than three months removed from being diagnosed with cancer, and this was his first game back on the sideline since September. His show of pure, unadulterated joy will be on the NFL's highlight videos for years.
Fourth Down: Mike Smith's decision to play his starters.
Coaches walk a fine line when their teams clinch playoff spots early, trying to balance between maintaining momentum and keeping everyone healthy. Atlanta coach Mike Smith has not had success in the past playing it safe, so he went all out Sunday against Tampa Bay.
A couple of problems: 1. Atlanta still lost; 2. John Abraham left with an ankle injury that will require an MRI Monday.
First Down: Chris Long.
The Rams lost by seven in Seattle, but a salute to Long nonetheless. The fifth-year defensive end recorded three of St. Louis' six sacks of the elusive Russell Wilson. Long finished with 11.5 sacks on the year and, if a late-season push is any indication, could be at the heart of a very formidable Rams defensive front in 2013.
Fourth Down: Meaningless Week 17 games.
There's only so much the league can do here -- it's pushed parity for years and years, and recently started stacking the schedule so Week 17 was loaded with intra-divisional games.
Still, it's a good thing Green Bay-Minnesota was a terrifically entertaining game (and Sunday night's Washington-Dallas showdown might be too), because most of Sunday's other action was pretty forgetful. Sure, Detroit took Chicago to the limit and Carolina-New Orleans was a back-and-forth affair.