Rookie running back Adrian Peterson came into this weekend's action with a slight lead in the NFL's rushing race. He had 740 yards.
One game later, the Minnesota Vikings' rookie phenom now has the NFL's single-game rushing title with 296 yards and has 1,036 yards rushing after only eight games in his young professional career.
How can it be that a rookie that ran for 224 yards just three weeks ago was already outdoing himself – and every other running back to ever have laced up the cleats in NFL history? He sweated the small stuff and worked to get better at setting up his blocks, according to Vikings coach Brad Childress.
"I saw some things that he cleaned up during the week … setting up some of those tight end blocks on the outside, where he's running for the edge, stuck his head inside, made the outside linebacker stick his inside and then circled the defense," Childress said. "He did some of the subtle things well, I thought, while running around the corner."
There was nothing subtle about Peterson's performance against a San Diego Chargers defense that entered the game ranked in the top 10 against the rush.
"He fought for every inch. He went out there, and every time he touched the ball wanted to take it to the house," Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "Give him credit – the guy played hard, they played hard. … We knew he was good coming in. It was not a surprise. It was a surprise for how many yards he ran for as he did. It was not a surprise with how he performed the way that he performed. We knew the guy could run, we knew he ran hard, and give him credit. We have to go in and watch film and get it corrected."
Per usual, the humble Peterson credited the supporting cast, the offensive line and the wide receivers and tight ends blocking downfield. But having a former NFL running back as his position coach seems to be helping as well.
"Eric Bieniemy made it big for me with all my inside zones and outside zones. I really studied it and looked at the other things I can do better, just pressing the hole, putting guys on guys and, you know, just following those blocks to get a guy over to the left so you can bounce it out to the outside. So those are the little things that I focused in on," Peterson said.
That focus put him into NFL immortality, breaking Jamal Lewis' single-game rushing record by one yard.
"I can't say enough about A.P. He's obviously a very special football player," said Vikings quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who entered the game as an injury replacement for starter Tarvaris Jackson, who suffered a concussion late in the second quarter. "And (Peterson) is a great guy, too, and a great teammate. I am glad he is on my side. I love watching him play, and we will continue to get him the football."
The Vikings' commitment to the running game paid off, as Peterson had a season-high 30 carries that he parlayed into a 9.9-yard average and three touchdowns in the Vikings' 35-17 win. As a team, the Vikings rushed for 378 yards.
"We know it's a big win for us, but we've just got to keep going. With a cat running for 296, you should win every ball game like that," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
It didn't hurt that Peterson was able to break the NFL record with the reigning league MVP and fellow Texas native LaDainian Tomlinson on the other sideline. In a game that was supposed to be a duel of the running backs, Peterson easily got the best of it as the Vikings defense limited Tomlinson to 40 yards on 16 carries.
"Impressive, very impressive," Tomlinson said. "I was just sitting over there on the sideline and just to have over 200 yards in the second half, that's impressive. I've never seen anything like it. …
"He has a bright future, a lot of upside. What happens is, as people start game-planning for you and start trying to stop you, you have to take your game to a different level. He is going to learn that. I don't think he is going to have a problem doing that. The key thing for him now is health. That's with all of us. Consistency, it starts with being healthy every year, playing every game and being there for your team. He is off to a heck of a start. It's probably one of the greatest starts of any running back."
Halfway through the season, Peterson is on pace for 2,072 yards, which would shatter Eric Dickerson's rookie mark of 1,808 yards.
"I knew he was special when I first saw him," said Vikings safety Dwight Smith. "You have to understand, last year in New Orleans I got to see Reggie Bush because I was with him in mini-camps and stuff. When I seen this guy, I knew he was something else. You don't see guys that big, fast, and strong. The way the guy plays football, there is nothing like it."
And now he's got the record to prove it.
Peterson Adjusts, Accolades Fly
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