The Return of Adrian Peterson

Head coach Mike Zimmer made this comment back in May when trading Adrian Peterson was a hot-button topic:

“Adrian, he’s really got two choices. He can either play for us or he can not play. He’s not going to play for anybody else. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Due to contract disputes, wavering confidence in loyalty on both sides and Peterson’s 15-game suspension for disciplining his child, the relationship seemed estranged.

For the majority of the off-season, many thought the Minnesota Vikings would trade its star running back, but the Vikings brass weathered the controversies and quietly held onto to the best running back the franchise has ever known.

Fast-forward seven months and the Vikings find themselves with the fifth best record in all of football at 7-2 and lead the NFC North by a game over the Green Bay Packers.

And who’s leading the league in rushing after 10 weeks with 961 yards?

It’s Peterson.

After a forgettable first game against the San Francisco 49ers (10 carries, 31 yards), Peterson has averaged 116 yards a game on a healthy dose of 23 carries a game.

In games where the Vikings have gotten Peterson 19 or more carries, they are 7-0.

In games where Peterson carries less than 19? They are 0-2.

For the year, he is averaging 21.7 carries.

Only twice in Peterson’s career has he averaged at least 21 carries. First, in 2008 when he led the league in rushing with 1,760 yards and drug the Vikings to the playoffs and in 2012 when he led the NFL in rushing again with 2,097 yards and, again, drug the Vikings to the playoffs.

The Vikings have only been to the playoffs three times in Peterson’s career.

The year that they made the playoffs and he didn’t average 21 carries? 2009, he averaged 19.7 carries and had Brett Favre handing him the ball.

There is a strong correlation between Peterson’s success and the Vikings success. Peterson is the engine, transmission and the accelerator in this grind-it-out offense.

There were many rumblings that Peterson was nearing the end of his career due to the apparent allergenic attack on running backs at the age of 30.

The last time that a 30-year-old running back led the league in rushing was in 2004. Curtis Martin did it for the New York Jets when he rushed for 1,697 yards. History has been unkind to backs once they reach that age threshold.

Ladaninan Tomlinson was universally regarded as the best running back of the 2000-10 decade, yet he never ran for more than 1,000 yards after turning 30-years-old.

What Peterson is doing is rare, but should we be surprised?

What Peterson has done his whole career has been rare. He was the second fastest running back to reach 11,000 yards in regards to games played. When many thought that he would never fully recover from a torn ACL and MCL, he returned to play nine months later, ran for 2,097 yards and won the NFL Most Valuable Player — an award that was the first won by a running back since 2006 and only the third in the 12 years that preceded.

During November, it looks as if Peterson is starting to find his tempo. He’s rushed for 431 yards on 75 carries in three games and seemed much more comfortable and patient behind a makeshift O-line that’s missing its two best starters (right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan).

The Vikings are in the midst of a dazzling and surprising season right now, and they will go as far as Peterson’s legs will take them.

After nine games in 2012 when Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards he had accumulated 957 yards rushing.

This year, after nine games, he’s at 961.

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