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Peterson Leads Vikings To Playoffs

December 30, 2012, 7:13 PM

Peterson Leads Vikings To Playoffs
MINNEAPOLIS, MN -

Adrian Peterson's remarkable comeback season now has a magic number to punctuate it.

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 Eric Dickerson's single-season record.

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 - 2,096 yards - and a trip to Lambeau Field for a playoff rematch next week.

"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 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.

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.

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.

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.

"I definitely want to keep the running backs highlighted," Peterson said this week. "It's started to turn into more of a spread, quarterback-friendly NFL. But just keep letting them know that there are going to be running backs that can do this."

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