Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson smiles while walking off the field after Sunday’s 37-34 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Minneapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson ran right past everyone this season. Past all those running backs before him who couldn’t make it to 2,000 yards in a season. Past every doubter who dared to think he wouldn’t make it back from a devastating knee injury.
Past everyone except Eric Dickerson.
Peterson became the seventh player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, plowing through the Green Bay Packers for a 20-yard gain that put him over the top in the third quarter Sunday. He finished with 199 yards and a touchdown in the 37-34 victory, leaving him nine yards shy of breaking Dickerson’s single-season record.
“Ultimately we got the `W,”’ Peterson said after carrying the ball a career-high 34 times. “We said during the week, if it happens, it happens. Don’t focus on it.”
Peterson needed 208 yards when the day began to break Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. His 26-yard run late in the fourth quarter set up Blair Walsh’s winning field goal, a kick that clinched a playoff berth for the Vikings. He’ll have to settle for the second-best total — 2,097 yards — and a trip to Lambeau Field for a playoff rematch next Saturday night.
“I know Eric Dickerson is feeling so good right now,” Peterson said with a chuckle, referencing public comments from Dickerson a few weeks back saying he hoped Peterson didn’t break his record. “But God willing, I’ll get it next year.”
Even without the record, his remarkable comeback season now has a magic number to punctuate it.
Peterson came in 102 yards shy of joining O.J. Simpson, Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson in the 2,000-yard club. Peterson is the only one to do it after reconstructive knee surgery, and he did it on the one-year anniversary of his knee surgery.
“He is without question the best running back in our game and truly, in my mind, the MVP of our league,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We don’t win this game without Adrian Peterson.”
The Vikings punted a few plays after Peterson’s big run, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation when the achievement was announced. Peterson took it all in stride, waving politely, but otherwise not making anything special out of it in a game the Vikings needed to win to make the playoffs. He simply didn’t have time to reflect on the long, arduous path it took for him to get there after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
It was only last December when Peterson crumpled to the turf in Washington, two ligaments torn, leaving many to wonder if his career would ever be the same.
Well, it hasn’t been.
Peterson vowed from the very beginning to return better than ever from an injury that has ended the careers of so many before him. There weren’t many believers, including in his own locker room.
But a combination of uncommon genetics, unshakable determination and a smart rehabilitation plan from Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman had Peterson back in the starting lineup on opening day.
Peterson scored two touchdowns in the opener, but didn’t top 100 yards in a game until Week 4 when he went for 102 against the Lions. As the season went on, the scar tissue in his knee started to break up and Peterson took off like a purple rocket.
His cuts are sharper, his vision better and his patience is making the difference between a 4-yard plunge through the line and a 40-yard dash down the sideline.
He went on a breathtaking eight-game run, amassing 1,313 yards and topping 200 yards twice in four games to vault into the MVP discussion and make 2,000 yards a possibility.
When asked this week to describe his running style in one word, Peterson replied: “Vicious.”
That certainly sums it up.
He got off to a fast start with 61 yards and a touchdown on the first two drives, hearing chants of “MVP! MVP!” just before he surged into the end zone for a 7-yard score and a 10-0 Vikings lead. He also had runs of 12 and 21 yards early to get the Vikings going in this win-and-they’re-in game.
“I don’t let awards identify me,” Peterson said. “I don’t do it. I go out and define myself by what I do on the field. Whether I win it or not, and I’m not saying I don’t want to, just like I wanted to break the record, either way, in my heart I’m the MVP. That’s all that matters.”
The Vikings have followed Peterson’s lead in what most observers expected to be a rebuilding year. Peterson has carried the offense on his broad shoulders, turning the Vikings into a throwback attack that relies almost exclusively on the run for its big plays.
“Congrats to (Adrian) Peterson on becoming the 7th member of the 2K club,” Johnson tweeted, “now let’s see who can run down ED.”
With second-year quarterback Christian Ponder going through some highs and lows, and the Vikings missing top receiver Percy Harvin with an ankle injury, the passing offense has ranked last in the league. Peterson is averaging more yards per rush than Ponder does per pass and his seven rushes of 50 yards tied him with Sanders in 1997 for the NFL record.
All the while, Peterson has said he’d take the first postseason berth in three years over 2,000 yards any day. But it was no secret that the individual achievement was important to him.
Unlike baseball, the NFL has few numbers that immediately grab the public’s attention. One of those is 2,000 yards, especially in this new pass-happy league. Peterson entered the game with 1,898 yards, more than 400 better than Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who was in second place.
“Adrian so many times made plays on his own,” Frazier said. “He’s special in every way.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this story.
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