Adrian Peterson is still the face of the Minnesota Vikings franchise, but rookie Cordarrelle Patterson finished his first season making a case for 1a and 1b consideration with Peterson entering next season.
Patterson started the season as the seldom-used receiver looking to make his initial mark as a kick returner. In the first two games of the season, he had more snaps on kickoff return (12) than offense (11).
That changed direction over the course of the 16-game season, but not has quickly as he changes direction on the field.
Patterson was only the third Vikings rookie to reach 2,000 combined net yards in a season, finishing with 2,020 – only 1 yard shy of Adrian Peterson's 2007 season and 61 yards shy of Percy Harvin's 2009 campaign.
"He's grown on me strong. He's an incredible athlete," Peterson said of Patterson. "He's right there on Percy Harvin's heels, in my opinion. For being a taller back, Percy's just kind of dynamic because he's a smaller guy, stronger. But this kid right here, he's real good. He's the real deal."
On Sunday, Patterson finished with two rushes for 54 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run, and two catches for 31 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown catch, providing both of the Vikings' touchdowns – and both on offense.
Patterson and improvisation seem to go hand in hand. His touchdown run was designed to be a pass, and Greg Jennings was open by the time Patterson decided to tuck the ball and run. He simply split a pair of Lions defenders, put a move on linebacker DeAndre Levy in the middle of the field and outsprinted any other pursuit to the corner of the end zone.
"Just like last time we were in the Dome, it was supposed to be a pass," Patterson said. "I saw Greg covered at first and I was thinking about running. Then he got open, and I told him when I scored that I was sorry, I saw you get open at the end, but my mindset was that I was going to run."
Patterson ended the season with 45 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns, 12 rushes for 158 yards and three touchdowns (one more than Toby Gerhart), and 43 kick returns for 1,393 yards and two touchdowns.
He is the first NFL player since Hall of Famer Ollie Matson with three or more rushing touchdowns, three or more receiving touchdowns and two or more kickoff returns for touchdowns in his first NFL season.
"I would rather be known as whatever they label me as. I just like to get the ball in my hands," he said. "I just like to do special things when I get the ball in my hands. I just feel like Flash, so I call myself Flash."
All but one of Patterson's 12 runs on the season came in the final five games, and 29 of his 45 receptions came in the last eight games, along with 323 of 469 yards receiving.
Despite all of that recent production on the offensive side of the ball, he said he doesn't wonder what might have been with a quicker immersion into the offense.
"You really can't think about it like that," Patterson said. "(Offensive coordinator Bill) Musgrave, he is doing a good job putting me in the offense, no matter if it was late in the season, so I really can't say what I would have done if it would have been that way the whole season, I probably could have got hurt. I don't know so I don't even think about it like that."
His primary role throughout the season was returning kickoffs, and he did that better than anyone in Vikings history. After returning two of them for touchdowns of 105 and 109 yards in the first seven games, opposing teams started to change their approach with him, some of them deciding not to kick it deep and sacrifice field position to avoid the potential of him returning one for another touchdown.
Despite that, Patterson still finished with 1,393 yards on kickoff returns, breaking Buster Rhymes' franchise record of 1,345 yards in 1985. Patterson also led the league with a 32.4-yard average per return.
"I think he's going to be pretty special. He stays healthy, the sky is the limit," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's a very talented young man, without question. That's obvious. He can be one of the all-time greats before it's over."
Said fellow receiver Jarius Wright: "I played with some guys that are very similar in the way he plays, but not a guy that big and that fast and able to do what he's able to do."
NO DUBIOUS MARK
The Vikings avoided getting the franchise record for most points surrendered in a season. They ended up giving up 480 points this year, short of the 484 set in 1984 under Les Steckel.
"You don't want to be associated with being the worst in the franchise," DE Brian Robison said. "We are already tied for the worst record here (in 2011) so obviously that is huge for us now."
ALLEN AT TIGHT END
The Vikings entered the game with two healthy tight ends after Kyle Rudolph (foot) and John Carlson (concussion) had been placed on injured reserve. Things got worse when Rhett Ellison suffered an ankle injury early in the second quarter.
That led to plenty of J'Marcus Webb, a backup offensive tackle, reporting to the game as an eligible receiver, but defensive end Jared Allen also got his opportunity at tight end during one goal-line play the snap after Ellison was hurt.
On first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Allen went out on a pass pattern and was open, but Cassel couldn't connect on the pass he intended for Allen.
Allen said the Vikings had that play as a possibility the previous week, too.
"We just didn't get in the goal-line position last week, but we got in the situation this week and it was an intended play," Allen said. "I did it a couple times in Kansas City."
NO FREEMAN AGAIN
Josh Freeman may have seen his last day in the Vikings home locker room, but it's been almost a month since he's even been in uniform. Freeman was inactive for the ninth time in his 12 games with the Vikings this year.
He was active but didn't play in two other games, but the last time he was active was Dec. 8 against the Baltimore Ravens. The only game he played in was when he started less than two weeks after signing with the Vikings.
He completed 20 of 53 passes (37 percent) for 190 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
FOUR STARTERS INACTIVE
With CB Xavier Rhodes inactive because of an ankle injury, Chris Cook got his 11th start of the season but first in three weeks.
Robert Blanton took the majority of the nickel cornerback snaps.
In addition to Rhodes and Freeman, the Vikings had RB Adrian Peterson, RB Toby Gerhart, DT Letroy Guion, T Mike Remmers, WR Rodney Smith inactive.
WR Calvin Johnson led the inactives for the Lions.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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