The news came just before the start of the game. Christian Ponder was not going to be available, and the quarterback duties would fall to Joe Webb, the back-up who had not thrown a single pass all year. But the faithful did not waiver. Fans reasoned the run possibilities would force the Packers to not emphasize stopping Adrian Peterson. Even critics agreed. Tony Dungy, who had picked Green Bay to win, changed his mind upon hearing the quarterback shuffle. He thought the read-react approach to quarterback might be just the ticket.
I guess not.
As a yearlong defender of Christian Ponder, I have this desire to say "I told you so" to the thousands of fans who called for Ponder's head throughout the year. See. This is what you have been asking for all year?.. Happy?
But I am now more inclined to agree with them. Whether or not Ponder is the future, it is painfully obvious we need to improve at the QB position. I am certain if Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels had been the starter yesterday, we would have been in position to win, or at least compete.
True, Green Bay added Charles Woodson. Their defensive backs were healthier. But Woodson is worth 27 points?
We missed Ponder.
But before we lament away our January, we must reflect on what has happened. A 3-13 team has improved seven games in a season. Only the Indianapolis Colts can say better, and they had a fallen coach as a team motivator.
Adrian Peterson compiled one of the greatest single-season efforts in NFL history and is the favorite to win the MVP. We can rest assured that he has fully recovered from the ACL/MCL injury to his knee.
Blair Walsh has arrived, and Minnesota has the best place kicker in its' history.
The defensive secondary is improved. Some. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are promising. Harrison Smith is really good.
We beat Green Bay, Houston, and San Francisco this year. We played Washington, Seattle and Indianapolis tough. All these teams are alive in the playoffs as of today.
We are not so far away.
After the pain wears away we will assess the season. Already I can see some key positions that need improving. Offensive guard, defensive secondary, linebacker, and wide receiver to start.
And, of course, quarterback.
But for right now I am down. Still on the wagon; always will be, Many will get off, but they probably jumped on last week.
Sunday morning has proven to be a tough one. The knowledge that Green Bay is the cause of our end is hard to accept. We realize the team was not ready in 2012 to go the distance, but we would have liked at least one more round.
Adrian Peterson already holds many Vikings' records. He is first in rushing attempts (1754), yards rushing (8,849), rushing TDs (76), 1,000 yard seasons (5), yards per game rushing (99.4), to mention just a few. The awesomeness of these records is: one, that he has accomplished it all in six years; and two, the decisiveness with which he is shattering previous records. Presently, Bill Brown and Chuck Foreman are second in TDs, only 24 behind. Robert Smith is second in rushing yards, though he trails by 2,031 yards despite playing two more seasons. The next closest yards per game rusher? Smith again, at 69.6 yards, about 30 yards short of AP.
After we witnessed Peterson's Herculean efforts last Sunday in the dramatic 37-34 win over the Packers, most Minnesotans are certain that number twenty-eight is this year's NFL MVP. Sure, Peyton Manning has done amazing things in Denver this year. He has kept pace or surpassed Tom Brady and/or Aaron Rodgers. He is alongside Drew Brees. And his team is winning. The Broncos have secured the one-seed in the AFC.
But how long ago was it Tim Tebow winning there? And if Tebow was able to lead Denver to victories last year, how less valuable does that make Manning? Add to that fact that the voters have already given Manning three MVPs, and most could see why they might decide to give the award to AP in 2012.
Adrian fell nine yards short of the all-time yards rushing title last Sunday. As he stated later in the week, it was bittersweet. The perfect story book ending would have had him score in the waning seconds on that final run, not be stopped near the ten yard line. Blair Walsh's field goal that just snuck inside the left goalpost gave Minnesota an improbable ticket to the playoffs while ending one of the greatest seasons ever assembled by any football player.
Just how great?
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards. But his yards per carry was 6.0 in 2012. His yards per game 131.1. Dickerson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his record setting year in 1984. And he finished 0.5 yards per game higher. Only Jim Brown in 1963 (6.3, 133.1) and O.J. Simpson (6.0, 143.1) in 1973 were better. Ever.
Chris Johnson in 2009 had 2,006 yards, averaging 5.7 a carry, and 125.4 yards per game. He was close.
Another way to measure RB greatness is to total how many times they led the league in rushing. Jim Brown won eight rushing titles in nine seasons, or 89%. Barry Sanders, with four titles in ten years, is at 40%. Earl Campbell won three titles in eight years, or 37.5%. Next is Eric Dickerson at 36.4%. Adrian Peterson is presently at 33.3%, having won his 2nd in his six seasons. Emmitt Smith won four titles, but played 15 seasons, and is at 26.7% despite being the all-time leading rusher.
This would mean that Walter Payton was not very good, as he won only one title in 13 years. Payton was runner-up to Campbell three times. Or Jim Taylor of the Packers would be lesser ranked because he happened to play in the same era as Jim Brown.
No, maybe the truest measure of a running backs' greatness is yards per carry?
Which would mean one of the greatest seasons ever belonged to Beattie Feathers of the Chicago Bears. You remember him, right? He was the first 1,000 yard rusher back in 1934. In that magical season he ran for 1,004 yards with an average yards per carry of 8.4. However, his yards per game a mere 91.3.
And that LB-RB Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns (1946-53) may have been better than his predecessor, Brown. Motley averaged 5.7 yards a carry for his career, easily ranking him first all-time among qualified backs. However, Motley averaged only 47.6 yards per game with the Browns.
So, if we decide to add yards per carry to yards per game, and sprinkle in lifetime achievements like rushing titles and career yards, we may find how to truly measure a running back's greatness. And that is just what I did.
Here are my top ten RBs of All-Time...
10. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (2008-present). I know what you are thinking. He doesn't belong in the top 50 until he earns it. But hear the numbers out. Johnson has 6,888 yards in five years. He has recorded five straight 1,000 yard seasons. In 2009, he ran for 2,006 yards. He has a lifetime 4.7 a carry, which ranks him fifth on this list. His 87.2 yards per game ranks sixth. He is already 57th all-time is rushing yards. He belongs.
9. Bo Jackson, Oakland Raiders (1987-90). Despite playing only four seasons, and starting only 23 games, Bo makes the list. Bo averaged 5.4 yards every time he ran the ball, better than any other on this list. He had season long runs over 90 twice, and 88 in another year. Bo ran a 4.1 at the NFL combine. He was wicked fast, and maybe the most dangerous player of all-time. His career was cut short by injury. He would go on to be a major league baseball player. And a good one.
8. Earl Campbell, 2 teams (1978-85). Playing most of his career with the Houston Oilers, Campbell won the rushing title in each of his first three seasons. In the six full seasons Campbell was an Oiler, the team was 43-46-0 overall. He was so impressive to watch, a giant guy running over, through, and by anyone. He finished with 4.3 yards per carry, and 81.8 yards per game. Those numbers are skewed as he was little used in three of his final four seasons. His brutal approach to carrying a football was the cause for an early demise. Still, he ranks 31st overall in career rushing yards.
7. O.J. Simpson, 2 teams (1969-79). Simpson was with the Buffalo Bills for most of his career. The Bills were 43-81-2 during that time. During an era where most teams learned to use the pass as a weapon, Buffalo relied on running the ball. Simpson had four rushing titles in a five-year span (1972-76). He was the first to cross the 2,000 barrier in 1973 with 2,003 yards. The next closest rusher that year was John Brockington, only 859 yards away. O.J. averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and 83.2 yards per game over his career. Simpson ranks 18th overall in yards rushed.
6. Emmitt Smith, 2 teams (1990-2004). Smith is the all-time rushing leader at 18,355 yards. So why is he so low on this list? Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and 81.2 yards per game. His was longevity as much as greatness. He did win four rushing titles in a five year span (1991-95). He had 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons. The Cowboys were 116-92-0 during his time there. He was great, but there were better...
5. Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (1975-1987). Payton played all 13 seasons with the Bears. Like Smith, he led them to the Super Bowl win. Payton averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and 88.0 yards per game. He finished with 16,726 yards, at that time the most ever. He would have won more than one title, but he happened to play during an era that included O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and Eric Dickerson. His nickname was "Sweetness" and those that watched him would agree... he was. He had ten 1,000 yard seasons, only interrupted by the strike-shortened season of 1982 (9 games). In Payton's only season leading the league (1977), he won his rushing title by 579 yards.
4. Eric Dickerson, 4 teams (1983-1993). Dickerson was unique in that he is not associated with one team. He spent parts of five seasons with both the Rams and the Colts. He finished with 13,259 yards rushing, four titles including the all-time rushing mark of 2,105 in 1984. He had seven straight 1,000 yard seasons to start his career. He had over 1,800 in three of his first four seasons. Dickerson finished his career averaging 4.4 yards a carry, and 90.8 yards per game. He was a work horse that averaged over 100 yards per game in five of his first six seasons. But those seasons took a toll. In his final four years, had 2,033 rushing yards total in 45 games for the Colts, Raiders, and Falcons.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2007-present). You have seen him for six years. His lifetime achievements are still waiting to unfold. At present, Peterson is 33rd all-time in rushing. His 5.0 yards per carry bettered by only Brown on this list. His 99.4 yards per game 3rd best. AP won the 2012 rushing title by 484 yards over Alfred Morris. This coming off of knee surgery that had many fearing for his career. He has two rushing titles in six years. He was runner-up to LaDainian Tomlinson in his rookie year. Minnesota is 49-47-0 in those six years. Maybe some homer-bias, but his numbers hold out.
2. Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (1989-98). Sanders was the most elusive player I have ever seen. He won four titles in his ten years (1990,94,95,97), three after his fifth season. He lost a title in 1991 by five yards. He got better with age. His final rushing title included an MVP award. He was honored as much for his demeanor as his feats. Sanders finished with a 5.0 average yards per carry, and 99.8 yards per game average, both 2nd on this list. He left the game when he was within reach of Payton's all-time record, still fully capable. Detroit's losing ways had returned and he did not want to be a part of another rebuild. Sanders takes a backseat to no one, except...
1. Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns (1957-65). Many fans never saw him play, including me. So how does he keep ending up atop a list such as this one? Try eight rushing titles in nine years. Or 5.2 yards per carry, or 104.3 yards per game. He was a three-time MVP. He won the 1958 title by 791 yards over Alan Ameche, setting a new NFL record by 95 yards over Spec Sanders of the defunct AAFC, with 1,527 yards. He broke his own record in 1963, by 336 yards, with an 1,863 yard effort that stood until Simpson broke in ten years later. That year he bear runner-up Jim Taylor by 845 yards, or nearly double. Further, in 1963 he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. His final season, his ninth, he won the title by 677 yards over rookie Gale Sayers. And that just scratches the surface of his greatness.
There were serious absences from this list that deserve mention. All-time rushing leaders like: Curtis Martin, Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis, Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Marcus Allen, and Franco Harris to name a few. Other older generation rushing title holders like Steve Van Buren, a four-time title winner from the Philadelphia Eagles post-WW II. Or Joe Perry of the 49ers, the first to rush for 1,000 yard seasons back-to-back in 1953-54.
We will learn who is MVP in a short while. He will watch All Day's career unfold. But these are personal achievements, and should not outweigh the team matter at hand. This Saturday AP will once again have to prove to skeptics why a guy like me would value him so greatly.
AP Knows what it is all about...
or was that Bo.
I know many Vikings' fans were trying to reason it is OK to run just one more time. After Adrian Peterson's incredible performance which included two touchdowns, 199 yards rushing, and countless cut-backs and jukes that had the crowd in a raucous mood.
"Give him the ball. He will get the record. You can still call timeout. We want the ball on the right hash mark."
But in the end we had to concede that Adrian's heroic effort in 2012 would fall nine yards short of setting the NFL record still held by Erick Dickerson. Earlier in the day Dickerson had made it clear on national television that he wanted to keep the record. He was hoping Peterson would get 180 or so and win the game, but fall short of his hallowed title. He laughed, but he was serious. The rushing record is one of the most prized individual records in football.
And as Minnesotans celebrated Blair Walsh's winning field goal that just snuck inside the left goalpost, there was a sadness that the running back we love was denied the individual glory we all wished for him. Not so much that we did not jump up and down and think of all of our Packers and Bears friends we could Facebook.
We beat the blessed Packers.
The loss cost Green Bay a bye, and forces them to play us again next week.
How good does that feel?
The win knocked out the Chicago Bears from the playoffs. The 2012 Vikings eliminated someone. And it was someone we don't like very much.
And we have so many players to thank. Besides AP, there was Christian Ponder. While not perfect, and scary a few times, Ponder was brilliant and steady most of the game. His down field throws, decision-making, and precision under pressure were foreign to most fans. But I am certain that the slew of fans who insisted we need a new quarterback for 2013 are having doubt. Maybe Ponder might be just what we need?
There was pressure at times on Aaron Rodgers. He was hit hard by Everson Griffen often and Brian Robison made a huge play stripping him of the ball on a sack. Jared Allen was a force early in the game. Minnesota did not want to blitz and left it up to their front four most of the game. While Rodgers knifed through the defense often, he also gave up five sacks (three to Griffen). In the end Rodgers had 365 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. But the lack of a running game cost Rodgers pressure.
Jarius Wright became the favorite of many young fans today with his circus catch of a deflected pass that could have been a costly Ponder error. Instead, Wright's questionable grab that was undisputed, was a key first down when Rodgers was heating up. And Wright's big catch of a Ponder bomb (what is that asks most fans) was an even bigger play. Michael Jenkins, almost a goat earlier, made a couple of big catches. Even Jerome Simpson looked the part. All-Pro fullback Terry Felton even looked good on the other side of a perfect Ponder spiral.
I could always point out mistakes. Every game has them. The late timeout in the first half that seemed to give Rodgers enough time to get a field goal. Phil Loadholt's foolish decisions and penalties. Mistral Raymond overran a tackle that seemed to give momentum to Green Bay. Marcus Sherels leaves Jordy Nelson on a deep route. Even Adrian almost fumbled.
Or not, as replay overcame.
I choose not to dwell on these sobering events. I want to bask in the glory of another playoff visit to Lambeau Field. I want to think about winning three games in 2011, and then ten in 2012. I want to tell all the Ponder haters that I was right about him, he ain't so bad. He is just young. I want to call my Vikings' friends. It is a happy time.
And then I think about the record. Peterson came back in less than a year from a career-threatening knee injury. He dominated against defenses sole bent on stopping him. He ran so hard that most every time he touched the ball everyone in the room got excited. He even stayed in-bounds late in the game (see that Robert Smith?).
I want everyone to buy an Adrian Peterson jersey tomorrow. Celebrate his greatness. Nine lousy yards.
Skol, MVP, Skol.
On December 2nd we had another falling out with Christian Ponder. Minnesota had taken a 14-10 lead over Green Bay in Lambeau Field by halftime. After a 48-yard run in the early second half by Adrian Peterson, we were poised to go up 11 against our hated rival. That is when Ponder threw an interception to Morgan Burnett, killing the drive, and changing the potential upset into the predictable loss at Green Bay.
The loss placed the Vikings at 6-6, and given the impossibility of the remaining schedule, most gave up on the season.
And then Minnesota beat the Bears, Rams, and Texans by a combined score of 80-42. Two of the games on the road, even. Now we are 9-6 and need only win at home to go from 9-23 the last two seasons, to a playoff team. All we have to do is beat the Packers.
And we can.
The recipe is simple. And given this is the season of recipes, I have decided to share....
Get a large mixing bowl, or Dome. Fill it with alcohol, food, and crazy people. Pipe in loud music that forces them to yell until their throats are sore.
Quickly stir in something to get excited about. Defensively, a sack by Jared Allen or Everson Griffen. Maybe an interception by wonder kid Harrison Smith, or a fumble-producing hit from Antoine Winfield. Chad Greenway will cover the ball. Hopefully, that will be the impetus for an early lead.
Offensively, blend in just enough passing by Christian Ponder so that a run-stopping Packers defense is caught off-guard. Just like OC Bill Musgrave managed in the Texans win. With Green Bay bent on stopping AP, Ponder will have chances to exploit single coverage often. But the Green Bay defense has been very good of late. Ponder will need to be smart.
This will get the noise to rise. And let it bake. Do not open the oven door (turnovers).
When we have the lead it is time decorate/frost our meal. And that means lots of Adrian Peterson. I know everyone wants to see him get the record, but our focus should be on All Day pounding would be tacklers all game. Punish them. Sprinkle in a little Toby Gerhart to keep it fresh.
Defensively, everyone has to be at their best. It is time for the front four, and whatever blitz we concoct, to affect Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has won five straight vs. Minnesota, but not too long ago Rodgers feared the Dome. It is time to remind him of games past.
When we have the lead late in the game, it is time for the fans and the defense to join together. With every great rush by Jared Allen, cover by Josh Robinson, Chris Cook, or A.J. Jefferson, the fans must reward them with noise. Green Bay is very good at the passing game, but in the season's first loss they rushed for 150 yards. This cannot happen again. We must get a lead and force them out of the run so that we can attack Rodgers with a pass rush. And given the sporadic play of Green Bay's offensive line, it is possible.
We will serve the meal to everyone. A national audience, fans off the bandwagon. It does not matter.
More than likely, the reward for winning means a rematch next week back in Lambeau.
This Sunday's game vs. the Packers will be big. The biggest game since the "Assault in New Orleans", or otherwise referred to as the NFC Championship in the 2009 season. If Minnesota wins, they will have gone from back-to-back losing seasons, including last year's 3-13 season to a 2012 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Unbelievable.
Still, Minnesotans refuse to embrace quarterback Christian Ponder. And for solid reasons. His passer rating lies in-between Michael Vick and Blaine Gabbert. He throws for under 100 yards. He had five fumbles lost and twelve interceptions. His decision-making is much maligned.
Yet here we are at 9-6.
Adrian Peterson is demonstrating how important a running game can be. Peterson's 126.5 rushing yards per game dwarfs the next closest runner by nearly 30 yards per game. AP's 6.0 yards per carry are second to only C.J. Spiller, and his due mostly to running against prevent defenses, as opposed to 8 or 9 in the "box". Adrian's 2012 season ranks 8th all-time for rushing yards in a season, with Earl Campbell only 36 yards away, and O.J. Simpson's 2,003 yard performance a mere 105. Peterson's season ranks 79th all-time in all purpose yards, and if he can manage to set a single-season record by rushing for 208 yards vs. Green Bay, will finish in the top 30 all-time. He is 2nd in the league in rushing TDs. 2nd in attempts. And he has only lost two fumbles.
The defense is anchored by more than just Jared Allen and Chad Greenway in 2012. Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have been impressive, combining for 12.5 sacks. Kevin Williams, along with Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, have kept the middle solid throughout the season. Jasper Brinkley is starting to dominate at the middle linebacker. Harrison Smith and Antoine Winfield pound would be runners and receivers, and the cornerbacks have been better than any in recent memory. A total team defense.
Even Blair Walsh deserves credit. All he has done is set team and NFL records with nine consecutive field goals of 50+ yards. He is 32 of 35 on the year in field goal attempts. His kick-offs are pinning opponents deeper than in years past. He could very likely be an All-Pro is 2012.
And then there is Ponder.
Ponder lost favor by mid-season. Whether it was Bill Musgrave tightening the reins, or a lack of good decision-making, Christian stunk up the place for a while. And Minnesota lost games they had opportunities to win. Certainly the Washington loss, the Green Bay loss, and a few others drew pointed fingers at Ponder.
Despite a good game yesterday, most still feel he is not the quarterback of the future, and will be the demise of 2012. These fans want Minnesota to draft another quarterback next year, and open the door to potential free agent QBs or others out of favor with present teams. The list includes: Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, and more. Even Tarvaris Jackson would be an upgrade in the more pessimistic fan's eye.
But let's look at a few past drafts before we come to judgment...
2012 NFL Draft included a slew of apparent strong quarterbacks. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin headline a strong class. But would it surprise you to know that Luck's present passer rating is below Ponder? And other than the top two draft picks overall, only Russell Wilson (75th pick) is looking good. Miami's Tannehill (8th) and Cleveland's Weeden (22nd) have had mixed reviews.
The 2011 NFL Draft saw four quarterbacks chosen in the top twelve, six in the top thirty-six picks. Cam Newton, first overall, has been impressive. Jake Locker (8th) less so. Blaine Gabbert (10th) a disappointment. After Ponder, Andy Dalton was chosen 35th and Colin Kaepernick 36th. Both look better than Ponder to date.
In 2010, five QBs were draft in the first four rounds. The top pick was Sam Bradford, chosen 1st overall. Next was Tim Tebow, who went with the 25th pick. The remaining QBs include Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and some guy named Kafka. Only Bradford holds hope for a solid future.
In 2009 only three QBs are of note still today. Matthew Stafford, first overall, has been great and terrible. Mark Sanchez, fifth overall, is now washed up after his fourth season. And Josh Freeman (17th) continues to struggle with Tampa Bay. In this their fourth year, this class has taken a mighty step back.
2008 had of note Matt Ryan (3rd) and Joe Flacco (18th) and maybe Chad Henne (57th). Flacco has his detractors while Matt Ryan has proved himself year after year. The rest? Nothing.
So go ahead and hate on Ponder. Wish for another quarterback to take over. You may end up right, Christian might not be that good. But do not forget, Minnesota will not have a top ten pick. Probably not a top twenty. That means talent like Griffin, Luck, Newton, etc.. will not be available. We will have to find a Russell Wilson, or a Colin Kaepernick. In the meantime, most fans understand we still need to improve at other positions, such as wide receiver or offensive guard.
In the meantime, I will support Ponder as he beats Green Bay (along with AP and the defense), and brings us back to the playoffs in 2012.
Onward Christian Ponder. I will march off to war with you.
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