Do we all appreciate how good Adrian Peterson is?
Yes, yes, we all know he’s good. But do we take the time to really examine how good he is? Peterson, who willed the Vikings to victory on Sunday with a 35-carry, 211-yard game against the Bears, has now topped 10,000 yards in his career, and that seems like a natural benchmark to reflect on just how extraordinary Peterson’s career has been.
Peterson now leads the league with 1,208 rushing yards, and if he holds on to keep the league lead for the rest of the season, it will be the third time in his career that he led the NFL in rushing. The list of players who led the league in rushing at least three times is pretty much the same as the list of the best running backs in NFL history: Jim Brown, Steve Van Buren, O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Earl Campbell.
And Peterson joined an even more exclusive group on Sunday: Players with more than 10,000 career rushing yards and an average of 5.0 yards a carry. That group consists of Peterson, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders.
Sunday was also the fifth 200-yard game of Peterson’s career; only Simpson has more.
Peterson, of course, is joining this elite company in NFL history with lots of football left to play. The 28-year-old Peterson likely has at least a couple more seasons of playing at an elite level, and even as he begins the inevitable decline that every running back experiences after crossing over to the wrong side of age 30, he can probably be counted on to have some solid if not spectacular seasons into his early- to mid-30s. Five thousand more yards seems readily attainable, and if Peterson does that, he’ll join Smith, Walter Payton and Sanders as the only players in NFL history with 15,000 rushing yards.
One of the impressive things about Peterson is that he doesn’t seem impressed with himself. When asked about reaching the 10,000-yard mark, Peterson was quick to credit the offensive linemen he’s played with.
“A lot of guys over the years have contributed to it,” Peterson said. “Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie, the guys from this year, my fullbacks through the years. Just to be in that elite group, it’s truly a blessing. God has really blessed me to be surrounded by some great guys to get to that goal. So I sit here and I’m just humbled.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but the reality is that Peterson hasn’t had great teammates through his career: Unlike Smith, who racked up his yardage while playing most of his career on a team that had a dominant offensive line and Hall of Famers at quarterback and wide receiver, Peterson has often had to be a one-man gang. Peterson has consistently been the best player on his team and the best player on the field, and he’s one of the best running backs ever to play in the NFL.
Peterson was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:
Robbie Gould picked a bad time to miss. When Gould, the Bears’ kicker, made his second field goal of the day on Sunday, it moved him ahead of Mike Vanderjagt as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Unfortunately, Gould then missed two field goals: One, a ridiculously long 66-yard attempt, came up short at the end of the fourth quarter. And another, a very makable 47-yard attempt, missed in overtime and gave the Vikings new life. Gould is one of the best kickers in NFL history — unlike Vanderjagt, who played his home games indoors, Gould has to kick at Windy Soldier Field — but that overtime miss may come back to haunt the Bears.
Josh Gordon is the second-best receiver in the NFL. There’s only one Calvin Johnson, but Gordon is doing amazing things while playing in an otherwise dreadful Cleveland passing game. On Sunday, Gordon had 261 receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history to have two consecutive 200-yard receiving games, and he’s now second only to Johnson in receiving yards in the NFL this season. If he hadn’t been suspended for the first two games of the season, Gordon would be challenging Calvin Johnson for the league lead in passing yards. In fact, Gordon is averaging 124.9 yards a game, which is not only better than Megatron’s average yards per game this year, but it’s even better than Megatron’s average yards per game last year, when he set the all-time NFL record for receiving yards in a season.
Did Chip Kelly forget he has Michael Vick? In the second quarter on Sunday, with the Eagles in a goal-to-go situation against the Cardinals, Kelly put wide receiver Brad Smith in to take a shotgun snap — which Smith fumbled. I don’t have a problem with Kelly wanting to try a play with a mobile quarterback in a goal-line offense, but why not put Vick in? Vick is as quick as Smith, and unlike Smith (who signed with the Eagles three weeks ago), Vick actually knows the Eagles’ offense. Nick Foles is the undisputed starter in Philadelphia, but putting Vick in as an occasional change of pace would make sense. Throwing Smith out there made no sense.
Robert Mathis for defensive player of the year. Mathis, the 11-year veteran Colts pass rusher, is having his best season yet. Mathis was already leading the league in sacks heading into Sunday’s game, and Mathis’s strip-sack of Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday was a major turning point in the Colts’ win. With 15.5 sacks this season, Mathis is a huge part of the reason the Colts have all but locked up the AFC South.
The Texans lead the way for the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Of the four teams that entered Sunday with only two wins, three of them — the Jaguars, Falcons and Vikings — won. Only the Texans lost, which means now the Texans have a commanding lead in the race for the first overall pick in the draft. Case Keenum is actually playing pretty well at quarterback, but probably not well enough to keep the Texans from using the first overall pick on a quarterback who will push him aside for the starting job next year. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota are the favorites to be the first player taken, with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney the likely top pick if a quarterback doesn’t go first. (It’s fun to think about how a defensive front with Clowney and J.J. Watt playing together would look.)
Cam Newton plays the quarterback position like no one else, ever. After leading the Panthers to another win on Sunday, Newton is on pace for 3,488 yards passing and 596 yards rushing this season. That’s actually par for the course for Newton (he topped both of those totals in both of his previous two seasons in the NFL), but it’s almost unheard of for any other NFL quarterback. Do you know how many times in NFL history a player has had at least 3,488 passing yards and at least 596 rushing yards in a season? Four: Randall Cunningham in 1988, Daunte Culpepper in 2002, Cam Newton in 2011 and Cam Newton in 2012. Newton’s ability to beat teams with his arm and his legs is something we just haven’t seen before. Like Adrian Peterson, Newton is a player all football fans should appreciate.