The week of discussion leading to this Vikings-Cowboys game included mention of the possible influence of a "home run hitter" at running back. The surprise has been that the description has been used in connection to Dallas' Felix Jones rather than the Vikings' Adrian Peterson.
There was an example of how Peterson still carries substantial mystique among the NFL's closest followers, when he was voted as a second running back with Tennessee's Chris Johnson on the All-Pro team released Thursday by the Associated Press.
This was a blunder by the voters, when you consider that Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew was Peterson's equal as a rusher, as a receiver and he lost one fumble compared to Peterson's six. And then there's blocking, where Jones-Drew excels and Peterson keeps trying.
The Jones-Drew oversight will mean nothing to the Vikings and the Cowboys for 3 1/2 hours inside the big blue room. This is a conference semifinal, but these are the NFC's two teams that are closest to complete, and the winners should be traveling to Miami for the Super Bowl, not the Pro Bowl.
The most popular scenario offered for a Vikings victory has been that Brett Favre will negate Dallas' aggressive rush by relying on dink passes to Peterson, Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin, quick throws in the middle to Visanthe Shiancoe and an occasional jump ball to Sidney Rice, this team's true MVP.
Much of this is based on the way Favre carved up Chicago's injured secondary in the second half on Dec. 28, and his four-touchdown frolic against the disinterested New York Giants on Jan. 3.
Those challenges compared to what takes place against Dallas is the difference between meaningless and just plain mean. And in order to take that streak out of the Cowboys, the Vikings will have to hit DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in the teeth with a heavy dose of Peterson.
A concern over Peterson can take a half-step away from the charges of the outside linebackers, and if it doesn't and Ware and Spencer continue to have eyes only for Favre, Peterson could find a lane and go deep.
One thing for sure: Adrian's due.
Peterson hasn't had a 40-yard rush since a 43-yarder against Detroit on Nov. 15. His long run in the six games after that was 15. He went 23 in the season finale, and the only guy in Giants blue bothered by that was coach Tom Coughlin.
Vikings fans watched Peterson as a rookie in 2007 and thought they might be getting a first look at the NFL's greatest running back since Jim Brown. Now, he's facing his biggest pro game after his third season, and the hometown crowd will be revolving through the doors merely hoping that the Vikings' 24-year-old will be able to match the explosiveness of Jones, the Cowboys' 22-year-old.
Marion Barber III's knee injury cleared the decks for Jones to become the Cowboys' featured back. The results have been such that in the future even a healthy Barber figures to be chasing Jones on the depth chart.
Jones had double-digit carries in the season's final four games and again in last Sunday's playoff victory. He totaled 65 attempts for 406 yards and an average of 6.2 yards in those five games. Over his past five, Peterson had 84 carries for 299 yards and an average of 3.6.
Jones had a 73-yard touchdown run in the playoff victory over Philadelphia. Forty-yarders are the football equivalent of home runs, and Fast Felix has five in 132 carries this season. Peterson had three in 314 attempts during the regular season.
Peterson was second in the NFL in 20-yard runs -- but with 12, it was a distant second to Chris Johnson's 22. A year ago, Peterson had a league-leading 20.
His rushing yards fell from 1,760 to 1,383, and his average fell from 4.8 to 4.4, but what he has done is take 43 passes with Favre in charge compared to an average of 20 in his first two seasons.
First things first on Sunday: Those facials from Peterson to slow down Ware and Spencer and allow Favre to do more than a dink a pass.
"Any time you go into a playoff game, you want to run the ball," Peterson said. "You want to get the run going and then you can bring out everything else."
Which is what the Vikings will need -- everything they got -- to beat the best Dallas team since the 1995 Super Bowl champions.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com