Great running back seasons are rare, as the NFL turns more and more into a quarterback league. Adrian Peterson, with the playoffs on the line, turned out one of the finest performances of his career, pulling the Minnesota Vikings on his powerful legs into the postseason, falling just short of the all-time record.
But would that record be if it wasn’t coming with the postseason. We’ll never really know what meant more to him, but he didn’t look too down from rushing for “only” 199 yards against a Green Bay Packers defense that has been helpless to slow down Peterson twice in the regular season, and now will have to handle him a third time in the playoffs. Their only hope in containing him is by wishing that the 34 carries he took on himself, the most he’s had all season, will slow him down just a bit in less than a week from now.
And Peterson’s work load has certainly picked up in the later stage of the season, as Christian Ponder’s mistakes seemed to be ruining the impressive start the Vikings were having. Peterson averaged 18.7 carries per game through the first nine games, but the Vikings stopped limiting him and his touches in the final six weeks, as Peterson raised his carry average to 25.7 per game. It didn’t look like it was slowing him down against the Packers.
The buck stops at 2097. Not enough for the record, but there were others he could have gotten and did set. His December s the highest calendar-month average in NFL history for any player who played a minimum of 4 games in a single month. Peterson averaged 172.2 rushing yards per game through December, beating Walter Payton’s November from 1978 (170.8) and pushing down Eric Dickerson of the Rams (170) and Jim Brown with 161 in 1958.
There has been a lot of talk about what makes Peterson so special this season. His first half was good, but not exceptional. The second half of the season really stood out and was the consistent factor while the Vikings had their ups and downs with quarterback play and defending.
He started rushing very well outside the tackles – He finished with 113 yards outside the tackles Sunday, including a 26-yard rush outside the left tackle on his final carry to set up the Vikings game-winning field goal. He doubled the amount of times he rushed outside the tackles during the second half of the season, raising his yards per carry on such plays from 1.2 to 6.6. Teams kept stacking the middle, but Peterson had no problem breaking away on the outside.
Christian Ponder also deserves more than a mention, as he played a huge game against the Packers who trusted him to make mistakes. Ponder finished with 234 yards and three touchdowns passes. No interceptions. Yes, for the third straight game, Ponder had no interception while delivering his best passing performance of the season (passer rating of 120.2). He tied a season high by completing four passes on throws at least 15 yards downfield, including a 65-yard pass to Jarius Wright and a 25-yard pass to Mike Jenkins on the Vikings’ last two drives. Entering the game, Ponder had the NFL’s worst completion percentage on such throws with 31.4%.
Aaron Rodgers was huge as usual, but took quite a punishment. The Packers don’t have a reliable running game or a reliable defense. It’s not only up to Adrian Peterson to carry the Vikings on the frozen tundra, but it looks like the Vikings have pieced together the right formula at the perfect time.