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NFL Morning After: Adrian Peterson’s best season yet

Minnesota Vikings running back Peterson leaps over Detroit Lions safety Coleman during the second half of their NFL football game in Minneapolis Reuters

If I had told you on New Year’s Day that 2012 would be the best year of Adrian Peterson’s career, you would have said I was nuts. Well, I may be nuts, but Adrian Peterson is also the best running back in the NFL, and playing better this season than he ever has before.

Peterson, the Vikings running back who suffered a torn ACL in Week 16 of last season and spent his New Year’s recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, looked at the start of this year like he might not even be able to play football at all in 2012. Instead, Peterson put himself through a grueling offseason rehabilitation program in which the only doubt the Vikings’ medical staff expressed was whether they could keep the hard-working Peterson from overdoing it. He was ready to go for the first game of the season.

And what a season it’s been. In Sunday’s win over the Lions, Peterson carried 27 times for 171 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first player in the NFL this season to top 1,000 yards. Peterson leads the league in rushing with 1,128 yards, and he’s on pace to gain 1,805 yards this season. That would be a career high, as would his current average of 5.8 yards per carry, and he’s also on pace for a career-high 46 catches this year. Statistically, Peterson is having his best season.

But it goes beyond the statistics. It’s that Peterson, who last made the playoffs as a young player on a 2009 team led by Brett Favre, is now the veteran leader of this 6-4 Vikings team, which has legitimate playoff aspirations. It’s that Peterson is doing everything against defenses that are built to stop him: On Sunday, with the Vikings’ top receiver, Percy Harvin, sidelined, the Lions were stacking eight and even nine players in the box to stop Peterson. But they simply couldn’t: He broke tackles, outran people, and even hurdled a defender on a spectacular demonstration that his knee is 100 percent healthy. (Although the run on which he hurdled a defender didn’t count toward his stats, as it was called back by a holding penalty.)

Now the question is whether the Vikings, who are one of the NFL’s pleasant surprises through 10 games, can do it for six more games. Frankly, the smart money says they can’t. The Vikings still have to play the Bears twice, the Packers twice and the Texans once. They’ll probably only be favored in one of their final six games, Week 15 at St. Louis. So at the end of the season, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Peterson’s heroics weren’t enough to lead the Vikings to a winning record.

But if the Vikings go through that gauntlet and end up in the playoffs, and if Peterson keeps up his current pace, it would represent by far the best season of his career. And it would make Peterson more than just the best running back in football. It would make him a strong candidate for the NFL’s MVP.

Peterson was the player who impressed me the most on Sunday. Here are my other Sunday thoughts:

Chip Kelly and Michael Vick would make a dynamic duo in 2013. Kelly, the Oregon head coach whose team is unbeaten this season, is widely regarded as a strong NFL head-coaching candidate. And Vick, the Eagles quarterback who suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss against the Cowboys, is widely regarded as needing a fresh start after things have fallen apart for him in Philadelphia. So what could be better than Kelly (whose spread offense is predicated on having a quarterback who can beat defenses with his legs or his arm) coaching Vick (who is the NFL’s all-time leader for rushing yards by a quarterback)? Let me be the first to admit that it’s entirely possible that Kelly’s system wouldn’t work in the NFL, and it’s also entirely possible that Vick is simply done as a quality NFL starter. Yes, there’s a chance it would be an utter disaster. But there’s also a chance that Kelly and Vick would be an incredible pairing. I’d love to see it happen next season.

Titans running back Chris Johnson is the most inconsistent player in NFL history. After his 23-carry, 126-yard game against the Dolphins on Sunday, Johnson now has four games this season in which he gained more than 120 yards and at least 5.5 yards a carry. He also has four games this season in which he gained less than 25 yards and averaged less than 2.2 yards a carry. It seems impossible that a player who’s capable of the kind of greatness we routinely see from Johnson is also capable of turning in the kinds of dreadful performances that have become routine for Johnson. But that’s what Chris Johnson is: On any given Sunday he might be the best running back in the league, or the worst.

Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part One) Broncos punt returner Trindon Holliday raced 76 yards for a touchdown in Carolina, but there was just one problem: He decided to start celebrating his touchdown after 75 yards. Holliday flipped the ball into the air before crossing the goal line, which means it should have been ruled a fumble into the end zone and the Panthers’ ball. But the officials on the field for some reason ruled it a touchdown, and even more egregiously, the replay assistant failed to signal to the referee to review it — even though the rules say that every touchdown needs to be confirmed on replay before the extra point is kicked. It was a stupid mistake by Holliday, a major oversight by the officials on the field, and it ought to be a firing offense for the replay assistant who failed to fix it.

Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part Two) In one of the worst pieces of officiating you’ll ever see, the Vikings were briefly awarded an interception return for a touchdown on an incomplete pass — an incomplete pass that was so incredibly obvious that it’s stunning that none of the seven officials on the field saw that the ball bounced off the ground. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s incomplete pass bounced into the hands of Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who grabbed it and just stood there for a couple of seconds before he realized that none of the officials had seen it hit the ground, at which point he sprinted into the end zone for what was ruled on the field as a touchdown. The call was correctly overturned on replay, but it’s ridiculous that the officials needed replay to get that one right.

Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part Three) Sunday’s most replacement-like officiating happened in the bizarre tie game in San Francisco, where the men in stripes simply looked like they had no clue. Long delays, conferences in which all of the officials appeared to be confused, and bad calls abounded. The worst of all was a strange sequence in which the officials allowed the clock to keep running while they brought out the chains for a measurement, resulting in more than a minute being wrongly run off the clock. Mistakes like that are inexcusable.

Indianapolis is going to the playoffs. The Colts’ win on Thursday, combined with losses by the Chargers and Dolphins on Sunday, give Indianapolis a two-game lead over the rest of the pack in the AFC wild card race. Considering that the Colts still have games against the 3-6 Bills, the 4-5 Lions, the 4-6 Titans and the 1-7 Chiefs, it’s almost impossible to envision Indianapolis falling short of a winning record, and this looks like a season in which anything over .500 is going to be good enough to secure an AFC playoff spot. Amazing as it is to say, the team that finished last year with the worst record in the league will finish this year in the playoffs. That’s almost as amazing as a running back who entered the year with a devastating knee injury finishing the year as an MVP candidate.

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29 Responses to “NFL Morning After: Adrian Peterson’s best season yet”
  1. jennstergersburnedretinas says: Nov 12, 2012 7:00 AM

    Did they bring back the replacement refs? (Part Four)

    In the Dallas win over Philadelphia, Dez Bryant was credited with a touchdown catch midway through the second quarter. After each scoring play there is an automatic review. The ball clearly hit the ground when Bryant fell in the endzone then rolled over his arm and hit the ground again. While Dallas would have likely scored another touchdown anyway because of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s pass interference on the play, the play should have been blown incomplete.

  2. notaslappy says: Nov 12, 2012 7:16 AM

    I’m a Lions fan, and I just hope the fans in Minnesota actually appreciate what they have with Peterson. Holy smokes that guy is unbelievable.

  3. squared80 says: Nov 12, 2012 7:17 AM

    His stat lines are good… but until you watch this kid play, you have no idea. We are witnessing greatness when we watch AP run.

  4. csilojohnson says: Nov 12, 2012 7:27 AM

    Fine the refs already. This is becoming a joke. These guys are worse then the replacements.

  5. thepvyharvin says: Nov 12, 2012 8:14 AM

    Their has been some great rbs in the history of the NFL. Has one ever had the size,strength,speed and moves as AD? I’m not sure. I do know that the way he runs,like a wild animal running for his life on every play is the greatest sight to behold in the NFL. You feel the violence,,,so do the defenders,,,,

  6. harness88 says: Nov 12, 2012 8:22 AM

    AP brings it every game he plays—-he might be the best running back ever.

  7. CKL says: Nov 12, 2012 8:28 AM

    Thank you for talking about how dreadful some of the “real” refs have been. What’s stunning is how bad they’ve been with the mechanics of the game (see what they did to Cam Newton vs Wash when they couldn’t spot the ball in a timely manner so he could get the snap then penalized Carolina for delay of game, etc etc)which is the one place I thought they would be an improvement over the replacements.

    AP SHOULD get comeback player because of all the contact he takes, how important legs are to a RB’s game and how great he’s playing. But let’s be real, the microsecond PM stepped onto the field this year, he had that won, regardless of anything that happened going forward.

  8. aboselli says: Nov 12, 2012 8:38 AM

    The group that watched every game in the preseason along with weeks one through three of the regular season firing off press releases detailing every mistake they saw should be able to absorb some criticism when they make even the slightest mistake given their concern for the “integrity of the game”.
    Remember how the NFLPA was concerned about the safety of their members because the regular guys weren’t out there? I haven’t noticed a precipitous dropoff in injuries, inclucing head shots, due to the the NFLRA officials working. So perhaps that was a bunch of hooey as well.
    Inadvertant whistles, phantom DPI’s for 40+ yard gains, phantom holds, QB’s dropping every week due to helmet shots – but a largely silent media. They’ve moved on.

  9. albertmn says: Nov 12, 2012 8:42 AM

    I have to believe that the injury and rehab helped AP focus this offseason. Not to say he hasn’t been in shape other seasons, but he hasn’t had the burst the last couple of seasons to break off the long runs like he has this season.

    Also, the revamped OL has played better and opened some holes for him this season. AP is a beast, but no RB can excel without at least a few holes opened by the OL.

  10. bigdaddydooko says: Nov 12, 2012 9:03 AM

    Regarding Refs, I thought one of the sticking points of the NFL in the labor dispute was to place accountability on the refs. After watching the bad calls in last weeks Giants-Steelers game and now some of these calls this week, I wonder if the NFL is going to evaluate and reprimand these crews.

  11. christophershearin says: Nov 12, 2012 9:16 AM

    ive been saying all along the real refs suck just as bad as the replacements…………. but biased D-Bags such as your self continued to claim that things would be so much better with the real refs back….. Just admit they both suck, at least the replacements had an excuse for being bad……….. The real refs should be fired……….. and the replacements brought back immediately…….

  12. fatguystrangler says: Nov 12, 2012 9:18 AM

    I’m glad to see the regular refs finally being called to task by PFT. You guys and alot of other media members damn near wanted to crucify the replacements for their shortcomings, while selling the regular refs as victims in a money dispute by greedy owners. After yesterday’s debacles and some others since their return, it doesn’t seem like every regular ref is that much of an upgrade over his replacement counterpart.

  13. banlarson says: Nov 12, 2012 9:19 AM

    For those of you looking at Peterson’s performance this year like its something unique or better than previous years, those of us long term Viking fans know the offensive line the past two years was one of the worst in the conference. We had an average OG playing LT, a washed up LG, an undersized C, a revolving door at RG and a big slow RT who routinely got beat. Throw on top 8 or 9 guys in the box and its amazing Peterson got any yards. This year with a true LT, moving our then LT to LG, and a stable RG and you see Peterson having at least slivers of daylight. As this young OL improves, you’ll see Peterson get even “better”. He isn’t miraculously better, you can now just see him without 3 defenders in his face.

  14. fireeyes111 says: Nov 12, 2012 9:24 AM

    Did they bring back the replacement refs (Part Five)?

    In the second quarter of the Bills-Patriots game, after one already questionable pass interference call (as the player assessed the penalty was NOT covering the intended receiver on the play, and was in fact nowhere near where the ball was thrown), Tom Brady heaved a pass 38 yards toward Brandon Lloyd in the end zone.

    Lloyd was clearly interfered with by the Bills’ Stephon Gilmore; however, the ball was thrown so far out of bounds it actually hit the back corner wall separating the field from the stands. Dan Fouts proceeded to lampoon the referees, arguing that the Patriots were “pretty much handed a touchdown.”

    No one would have argued with defensive holding or illegal contact, but to assess a 40-yard pass interference penalty on a ball that a 10-foot-tall man couldn’t have caught is pretty…. well, Replacement.

  15. peavey2 says: Nov 12, 2012 9:32 AM

    It’s so hard to compare different running backs over time – different offensive lines, different offensive strategies, longer seasons than in the 60’s and 70’s…

    But I have to believe that when it’s all said and done, AP will belong in the discussion as the greatest ever.

  16. phatnate says: Nov 12, 2012 9:42 AM

    Are you smoking crack? A fresh start for Michael Vick? He has been in the league 10 years, he’s 32 years old. He’s hurt all the time. Michael Vick is a loser. Why would any new coach to the NFL think that Michael Vick is the answer. I’ll give anyone 10 to 1 odds Michael Vick never wins another playoff game. Asnine idea.

  17. thejuddstir says: Nov 12, 2012 9:49 AM

    and Chris Johnson still thinks he’s the best RB in the NFL, LMAO If CJ had half the dedication, determination and discipline that Peterson has, he still wouldn’t compare. Marshawn Lynch has revived his career and is certainly good, but Peterson is the “real beast”.

  18. CKL says: Nov 12, 2012 10:23 AM

    @fireeyes111,
    I’m a Pats fan and I hated that call. I thought the rule was no PI on uncatchable balls, but I see it called ALL THE TIME on uncatchable balls. It stinks.

    The Bills also got called for PI once when it should have been illegal contact. I thought only the replacements had trouble with that one?At least they have the excuse that in college, IC doesn’t exist. It was the Leavy crew though, what a shock! Amirite, Seattle fans?

  19. jprcox says: Nov 12, 2012 10:59 AM

    Don’t count out Marshawn Lynch for the rushing title – Peterson has been getting his yards in bulk, Lynch has earned his the hard way. Just look at the yards after first hit – Lynch is WAY ahead.

    Lynch also has his team at a better record, and that should be way more important in the MVP race. Right now between the two Lynch should get MVP.

  20. samanthasteeleruinedmyqb says: Nov 12, 2012 11:16 AM

    Hey, the Vikings could make the playoffs even with that schedule. If Houston has the division wrapped up by Week 16 and Green Bay has a playoff spot wrapped up by Week 17, they’ll probably rest their starters. Beat St. Louis in Week 15 and they have a chance to go 9-7.

  21. bambam4 says: Nov 12, 2012 11:41 AM

    I have an officiating question because I do not understand how the Texans got called for an illegal hit on a qb and Cutler got call for an illegal pass for being across the line of scrimmage on the same play. I thought that once a qb becomes a runner, he is treated like any other runner. If Cutler is across the line of scrimmage, he is a runner – right? If Cutler is behind the line of scrimmage, he is a qb, right? Therefore, isn’t it impossible to have both an illegal forward pass for being across the line of scrimmage and an illegal hit on a qb on the same play?

  22. truetrue85 says: Nov 12, 2012 11:52 AM

    I think it’s obvious at this point that the Colts finished dead last because they were tanking the season for Luck. All this attention they’re getting, I’m waiting for Goodell to start suspending people… that’s his answer for everything.

  23. jprcox says: Nov 12, 2012 12:09 PM

    I dont think there is any doubt Colts sought to play badly so they could get Luck….and it worked.

    Unless someone can get ahold of a memo stating this, no-one can prove that happened. Goodell will do nothing, Colts gave their season for at least 4 seasons with Luck, then they will pay him $25m a year to keep him and end up like they were before….struggling to win postseason since all their money was in 1 player.

    We’ll see if it works.

  24. zn0rseman says: Nov 12, 2012 12:33 PM

    The really amazing part is that AD id splitting carries with Toby Gerhart and still putting up those monster numbers.

  25. billsboy88 says: Nov 12, 2012 1:04 PM

    Brady hucks the ball to toward the end zone from the 40 yard line. The ball is so overthrown someone sitting in the first row of seats had a better chance at it than the WR. Yet, DPI, pats get free 40 yards and 1st and goal from the 1. This is after a DPI call earlier in the drive on a player that was absolutely no where near the play. All told, on an 81 yard td drive the pats only had to gain 12 yards, the other 69 came by penalty.

    Bills managed to allow plenty more points in the game, but that one drive really ticked me off. Pats were handed a TD.

  26. kernelreefer says: Nov 12, 2012 2:48 PM

    Peterson has been getting his yards in bulk, Lynch has earned his the hard way. Just look at the yards after first hit – Lynch is WAY ahead.
    ——

    What? Peterson is averaging 3.4 yards after first contact per attempt. Lynch is at 2.8.

    He’s also forced 8 more missed tackles.

    He has the highest yards per attempt for running backs over 100 attempts (sorry, Spiller) by 0.3 yards.

    Marshawn Lynch is really, really good. He might be one of the top 5 running backs this year. But seriously?

  27. realfann says: Nov 12, 2012 3:19 PM

    Hey kid, don’t call for firing a guy for making a mistake unless you are willing to live & be fired by the same rules.

    And yes, you make plenty of mistakes.

  28. jprcox says: Nov 12, 2012 5:45 PM

    kernelreefer: If you looked up the stats on YAC you would have seen Lynch as the most total yards after contact. My point is that Peterson will have a better average since he breaks big runs every game – Lynch is getting his yards much harder.

    Both are great. MVP goes to Lynch since his team is doing much better as a result.

  29. txnative61 says: Nov 13, 2012 1:48 AM

    Well, the Seahawks beat the Vikings, but anybody watching had to like Peterson, and Lynch. I’d argue for both to make the HOF—for the best running back EVER? He has more work to do.

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