He begins his carries with the upright bearing of Eric Dickerson, and finishes them with the pugilistic mien of Jim Brown. Adrian Peterson bulled and sprinted into the company of legends again on Sunday, passing one of those round-number milestones so rapidly that he again made all of his outlandish goals seem attainable.
Peterson is chasing Emmitt Smith and other fast men now, and like all fast men he will find time to be his most worrisome enemy. At 28, Peterson on Sunday rushed 35 times for 211 yards to reach 10,000 yards faster than any backs in history other than Dickerson, who did it in 91 games, and Brown, who did it in 98.
Smith rushed for an NFL-record 18,355 yards, and while logic and history suggest Peterson will slow to an unsustainable pace long before he challenges that mark, logic has yet to constrain him, and history speaks well of him.
In the first 694 games in Vikings history, one back rushed for 200 yards in a game — Chuck Foreman gaining exactly 200 on Oct. 24, 1976. In his first 101 games, Peterson rushed for 200 yards or more five times.
In NFL history, only one player has had more 200-yard games than Peterson — O.J. Simpson, who had six. Peterson is tied for second with Tiki Barber.
Peterson’s performance Sunday, on legs that have sometimes slowed him this year and in the midst of a season that has fallen short of inspirational, hinted that he’ll leave behind more round-number milestones like heavy-legged linebackers.
“It really means a lot,’’ Peterson said. “A lot of guys over the years have contributed to it. I was saying earlier, Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie, the guys from this year, Sully [John Sullivan], my fullbacks through the years. Just to be in an elite group, it’s truly a blessing.’’
He set a team record with his 35 carries on Sunday. His increased workload gave him a chance to turn a frustrating season into one of his best. He has rushed 261 times for 1,208 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last year, he rushed for a career-best 2,097 yards. With four games remaining, he could challenge his second-best total for a season, 1,760 in 2008.
A week after giving backup running back Toby Gerhart eight carries to spell Peterson, the Vikings asked Peterson to save them in their second overtime game in a row.
“I could have gone more,’’ Peterson said. “I condition real hard and actually get stronger as I go. I could have went 50, maybe 55 carries.’’
That is quintessential Peterson, setting goals that sound like jokes.
Someone asked what a 16-year-old Peterson would have thought, had he been compared to Dickerson and Brown.
“I would have believed it,’’ he said. “This has been my mind-set since I was young, to be the best to ever play. You have got to believe in order to accomplish it. So if you had told me that, I would have been like, ‘Hmmm … he is thinking what I am thinking.’ ’’
Smith rushed for 7,121 yards after the age of 28, never rushing for 1,400 yards in a season during the second half of his career but remaining productive longer than most running backs.
Peterson has already undergone reconstructive knee surgery, yet he runs like he’s never been hurt. Saddled with a struggling offensive line and facing defenses worried only about him, Peterson has turned a lost season into another testament to his greatness.
This year has been different, though. This year he has often looked hamstrung, a step slower than he did in 2012, when he so often made defenses read the back of his jersey.
Can he still shift into overdrive?
“What do you think?’’ he said, a smile on his face and defiance in his voice. “Did you see it out there? I’m going to continue to work on my body, strengthen my body, let my body rejuvenate, and it’s another push to Sunday.’’