Scoggins: The 2,000-yard man lifts team to his level

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 12:49 PM

The Vikings were not expected to go anywhere this season, but they followed the lead of their superstar running back.

The chants reverberated around Adrian Peterson after he ripped off one final breathtaking run.

MVP! MVP! MVP!

The cheers of a delirious and emotionally exhausted crowd grew louder and louder as Peterson's teammates converged on him. Safety Jamarca Sanford threw his arms around Peterson, hoisted him into the air and provided a hero's ride off the field.

What a moment it was, too. Exactly one year to the day after awaking in a hospital bed following major knee surgery, Peterson took a handoff, found his crease and sprinted 26 yards toward history and the playoffs.

"I was definitely trying to get to the end zone by all means," he said.

He didn't quite make it. His storybook run at NFL history fell agonizingly short, but Peterson achieved something even more rewarding and personally satisfying: He willed the Vikings into the playoffs in a season that began without any real expectations for himself or his team.

Peterson's final run Sunday set up Blair Walsh's chip-shot field goal as time expired to give the Vikings a 37-34 victory against the Green Bay Packers, setting up a rematch in the first round of the playoffs Saturday at Lambeau Field.

Needing 208 rushing yards to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,015, Peterson finished with 199 yards on a career-high 34 carries. That left his season total at 2,097 -- the second-best mark in league history.

"I know Eric Dickerson is feeling so good right now," Peterson said.

Peterson said he didn't keep track of his rushing total during the game or realize how close he came to the record until a few minutes after Walsh's game-winner. A touchdown on his final run would have secured it, but the Packers swarmed him at their 11-yard line.

Eight yards short of history.

"It wasn't meant to happen," Peterson said. "Not to say it doesn't hurt, because it does, but ultimately we came in here and accomplished the ultimate goal and punched our ticket to the playoffs."

They did so because Peterson provided a season for the ages. He might not have reached Dickerson's mark, but statistics alone don't measure his impact on this team. The Vikings won three games last season, and they lost Peterson to a major knee injury. This team was supposed to go nowhere, certainly not the postseason.

But Peterson put the Vikings on his broad shoulders and showed them they could achieve more than anyone thought. He gave them hope and confidence. He refused to concede anything, and his teammates followed his lead.

"When you're around greatness," fullback Jerome Felton said, "it raises your level of play."

Which is why Peterson should be the league's MVP. Peyton Manning is certainly deserving, too, but Peterson breathed life into an entire organization by the way he attacked his rehabilitation and promised to return better than ever. He carried his team to the playoffs in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. He became only the seventh running back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing, even though opponents stacked their defenses to stop him every week.

But nothing stopped him. He was that good. And that motivated. And that special.

He deserves the MVP.

"I don't let awards identify me," he said. "I go out and define myself by what I do on the field. I'm not going to say I don't want to [win], just like I wanted to break the record, but either way, in my heart I'm the MVP. That's all that matters."

Peterson enjoyed his moment in the locker room afterward. Still in uniform, he approached his offensive linemen and personally thanked each one. Former Vikings great Carl Eller stopped by his locker to offer congratulations. Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, who oversaw Peterson's rehab, embraced Peterson in a hug. Teammates gushed in all corners of the room.

"Unreal, unbelievable," veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "The greatest running back of all time. Such a special player, special person."

Peterson even joked about having telepathic powers on his 2-yard touchdown catch from Christian Ponder, who apparently let the play develop a little slower than Peterson expected. Or wanted.

"It was like me and Christian were connected," he said. "I was looking at him like, 'Throw ... The ... Ball!'" He looked like he was a little unsure if I was going to catch it or not. I was like, 'Throw the ball, run, make a decision now.'"

Ponder made the right decision. He put the ball in Peterson's hands.

And he delivered, as usual.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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