DENVER - Never have the Denver Broncos been so eager to get to next year.
This one was filled with heartache, beginning with cornerback Darrent Williams's slaying in a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day, followed two months later by the death of running back Damien Nash.
"It's been a rough year, on and off the field for us," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said after the Broncos capped their first losing season since 1999 with a 22-19 overtime win against Minnesota yesterday.
"It's nice to move on to next year. We have the anniversary coming up and have to deal with that."
Williams's killing when 2007 was just hours old remains unsolved as the first anniversary approaches.
The Broncos dedicated this season to Williams and Nash, yet it didn't go as they had hoped after a roster retooling had them talking Super Bowl back in August.
So they took solace where they could find it - in beating a team that began the day with playoff aspirations. The Vikings (8-8) needed a win and a Washington loss to top-seeded Dallas to sneak into the playoffs, but neither the Redskins nor the Broncos obliged.
The Broncos jumped out to a 19-3 lead only to watch Tarvaris Jackson hook up twice with Bobby Wade for touchdowns in the final 5 1/2 minutes and then convert both 2-pointers to tie it.
Minnesota won the coin toss but on the second snap, Jackson was sandwiched by Alvin McKinley and Jamie Winborn, the ball squirting into Elvis Dumervil's arms at the Vikings' 12.
Jason Elam became the first kicker since at least 1990 to convert four game-winners in a season, sending this one through the uprights from 30 yards just as the snow began falling.
With the playoffs out of his reach, Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson settled for the NFC rushing title. He gained 36 yards on 11 carries. Despite his fourth straight sub-par performance, his 1,341 yards edged Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook by 8 yards.
Peterson began the day on the bench, however.
"We didn't practice that way," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "He was just late for a bus. But, the first drive wasn't too bad with Chester Taylor."
It sure ended poorly, with the first of Taylor's two turnovers when he lost the handle just as he was about to punch the ball into the right pylon. His second fumble led to a touchdown that gave Denver a 14-3 halftime lead.
"I understand," Peterson said. "Everybody is looked at in the same way, no matter a starter or not. If you're late for something, that's the consequence."
Vikings wide receiver Troy Williamson dropped two passes, including one when he was wide open for what would have been a 72-yard touchdown.
"I think I should have focused on it a little more. I was too much worried about that I was too wide open," he said. "I was so wide open, it seemed to take forever, and it kind of moved on me at the last minute."
Big changes are expected in Denver.
This might have been the final game for Lynch, who is pondering retirement after 15 NFL seasons, and Rod Smith, the franchise leader in receptions and touchdowns, who might need hip replacement surgery.
Smith said if this is the end, he's glad to pass to torch to Brandon Marshall, who had 102 catches for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. Yesterday, his 10 catches for 114 yards made him the third second-year player in NFL history to top 100 catches in a season, joining Isaac Bruce and Larry Fitzgerald.