On Christmas Eve 2011, Adrian Peterson got the worst Christmas gift imaginable, an ACL and MCL tear and the end to his season with four games to go. The 26-year-old running back was immediately having his future called into question. He never got down though and surprised everyone when he said he would come back better than he was before. And not only better, but he would guarantee that he would be playing in week one. Many played it off as just talk, the normal thing an injured player would say: “I’ll be back sooner than everyone thinks.”
Sure enough, Peterson made the lineup week one after 8 months of intense rehab and hard work. For a player off injuries as painful as his, an 84-yard, two touchdown performance was impressive. However, through the first six games, anyone watching could tell that this was not the “A.P.” of old. He would get caught from behind on 40-yard gains and didn’t possess that one cut and shoot up-field move he thrived on in years past.
Despite the clear fact that Peterson was still in his recovery mode or he was just not the running back he used to be – the sad case for many running backs who suffer an ACL or MCL tear – he managed to average 83 yards/game in his first six games, a pace for 1,330 on the season. A 1,300-yard season for a player off these injuries? We are watching history!
After those first six weeks though, a span that only produced one game of 100 or more yards, Peterson returned to form. Only now, he was better, as promised. Week seven yielded a 153-yard game, incredible. From then on, Peterson was unstoppable. In the final ten games Peterson dropped below the 100 yard mark once, averaged ten yards per carry in two separate games, surpassed the 150 yard mark seven times, and rushed for more than 200 yards in two games. One-hundred-and-fifty yards in a game. Seven times. Wow.
It wasn’t as if the Vikings saw him produce and just handed him the ball 40 times per game. Peterson was rumbling, sprinting, cutting, whatever he was doing, 6.8 yards every time he carried the ball. The man known as “A.D.” for All Day was proving that he was working all day, every day to get to what he promised, a better running back after an ACL/MCL injury. In his final ten games, A.P. averaged 159.8 yards per game.
It was around game 14 that everyone really put the Eric Dickerson record on watch. In 1984, Dickerson’s second season, he ran for 2,105 yards which still stood as the record for single season rushing. Dating back to college, Dickerson had no injury history. Taking nothing away, 2,105 yards in a season is incredible and, until 2012, stood as the most impressive single season rushing performance in the league’s long history. Dickerson was the first real beneficiary (in the running game) of the 16-game season, changed from 14 games in 1978.
Peterson’s 15th game was the only game in the final ten that he didn’t cross the 100 yard plateau. With just 86 yards against the Houston Texans the record sat 208 yards away with the Green Bay Packers standing between Peterson and the record. Still the same Peterson that tore an ACL and MCL a season ago. Historically great against the Packers, and on the season, the record wasn’t to astronomically out of reach. What complicated the matter was that the Vikings were actually playing for something; a playoff spot. It was a win-and-in game so the team had to manage the game and come out with a win if they hoped to continue their season. All season Peterson had shrugged off talk about records or his stats and told the media that his number one goal was to get his team to the playoffs. He did mention a few times that he would like the record and he believed that his team would get it but that playoffs were the only thing that really mattered.
The game played something like a movie. AP got within striking distance after 59 minutes of impressive running. His final run put the Vikings in position to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired to send them to the playoffs. With 13 seconds left AP had 199 yards, still nine yards short of the record. The Vikings had two timeouts left but let the clock run down to three seconds to kick the 29-yard field goal as the clock ran out. Had the Vikings called an immediate timeout to give AP one more shot at the record, chances are he and his teammates would have done whatever it took to get the nine yards needed. But such was not the case and AD did reach, what he called, the primary goal of getting to the playoffs, but not his record. His teammates still hoisted him into the air to thank him for everything he had given them in the historic season.
Despite what history will show in the future, Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 yard 2012 season was far and away a better season than Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 yard 1984 season. Not only did Adrian Peterson have 31 fewer carries than Dickerson, he averaged a half yard per carry more than Dickerson did. In 1984, the league ran the ball much more than in today’s quarterback-friendly, pass-heavy league. To make the playoffs running the ball is almost unheard of in today’s NFL. Even so, Peterson led his team into the postseason.
The defensive gameplan against the Vikings became an eight or nine man box to contain Peterson. It was known that the ball would be in Peterson’s hands more often than not. Christian Ponder did his part to be a game manager but it was a fact that Peterson was their ticket to a win. Even with this, Peterson flourished. His 1,019 yards after contact would be good for 15th most rushing yards in 2012. It is also 400 yards more than the next closest competition (Alfred Morris).
Eric Dickerson’s L.A. Rams also went to the playoffs in his record season but were one and done. Terrell Davis, in 1998, is the only running back ever to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and have a playoff win in the same season. Adrian Peterson looks to lead his team to a playoff win on Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers to join that list. He will certainly have his chance as he has rushed for 409 yards against the defense in 2012 and averages 120 yards per game against the cheeseheads over his 6 year career.
The Vikings ride a four game win streak into the playoffs on the back of 163 rushing yards per game from Adrian Peterson. Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin, and the Vikings defense will have to assist Peterson if they hope to make a Super Bowl run. One thing is for sure: Peterson will continue to do his part in the running game to give his team a win.
Email Brenden at BPeddigree2011@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @brendenp2011.