There are certain moments in a season that help define what it is. For the last two weeks, the Vikings have played against defenses designed and prepared to take away Adrian Peterson.
Both teams have succeeded.
The Vikings have gone 2-0 in that period and, as we’re sure you’ve heard by now, won a division game on the road – a sight seen about as often over the last five years as a post-thunderstorm triple rainbow.
Against the Chiefs, Peterson was given the ball 26 times.
On one of those carries, he is the Peterson that has made him a Hall of Fame candidate. He made a jump cut, hit the gas and took off for 23 yards. The A.P. we’ve seen since 2007.
On the other 25 carries he had 37 yards – an average of less than 1.5 yards per touch. That isn’t what Vikings fans are accustomed to.
On Sunday, for those who didn’t see the game, it looked like a standard A.P. stat line of old: 19 carries for 98 yards. That sounds about right.
But it came on one carry of 75 yards in which he got caught by defensive end Ziggy Ansah after being slowed by safety Glover Quin. On the other 18 carries? Twenty-three yards, an average of less than 1.3 yards a carry.
The reality is that those two runs are signature moments of Peterson’s career. It’s what he does.
But it has been the other 43 carries for 60 yards that, under Vikings life since the autumn of 2010 would have resulted in a record of 0-2 at this point, not 2-0. It could be hard to argue that those numbers would have translated into a 2-0 record against their opponents from 2009.
Against the Chiefs, it was a stifling performance from the defense in the first half and an offense that got into scoring position enough to win that allowed the Vikings to come away with a victory. Sunday at Detroit, it was an oppressive defense that had as many sacks (seven) as yards allowed in the second and third quarters that helped the team overcome an early 14-3 deficit to run away from Detroit.
Make no mistake. The big play from Peterson is a weapon in the arsenal that keeps defenses at bay and opens up things for other players. But the reality is that the two long runs A.P. put together in the last two games both resulted in just six points – both of the drives in which Peterson broke loose resulted in field goals.
The Vikings have found a way to win without significant contribution from Peterson, using the pass offense, a take-no-prisoners defense and an efficient special teams component to win their last two games.
Fortunately for Peterson and the Vikings, the next game on the schedule is at Chicago. In his last four meetings against the Bears, Peterson has rushed 110 times for 575 yards and two touchdowns. That’s good news because the Bears don’t look to be any better than those teams Peterson has lit up in his recent past.
If the Vikings are going to continue to build upon their recent success – four wins in their last five games and finally getting the road divisional monkey off their backs – they’re going to need Peterson to be a critical part of that momentum. But it’s comforting to know that when opposing defenses achieve their primary goal of shutting down Peterson and forcing others to beat them that the Vikings have other horses that can pull the wagon.
Maybe there shouldn’t be too much concern that Peterson has consistently been frustrated and is being brought down at, behind or near the line of scrimmage on almost every carry the last couple of weeks. Had the Vikings lost both games or even split them, there would be legitimate reason for concern. But the fact remains that the Vikings are 4-2, still control their own playoff destiny and are starting to build a reputation that doesn’t include Peterson as its field general.
That’s the type of team that historically makes a playoff run because, even without a huge contribution from their franchise player, they’re finding a way to win – just like Denver has does without lights-out games from Peyton Manning.
For years, the networks have done Vikings game promos that typically started with “Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.” The franchise may have turned a corner because the team has proved that it can win as “the Minnesota Vikings with Adrian Peterson.”