It has been said that big players step up big in the biggest of games. That is what separates the greats in the NFL from the very good. As the Vikings prepare for what could either be the game that propels them into the playoffs or the game that potentially could end their 2008 season, they need a monster game from their biggest young star – making the battle between Adrian Peterson and the Giants defensive front seven this week's matchup to watch.
After getting off to a 2-4 start, the Vikings have had several games during the season that have fallen into the "must-win" category. In most of the games, Peterson has been the player they leaned on to get them over the top. When the team was mired at 2-4, the Vikings played host to the Houston Texans. Peterson ran 25 times for 139 yards and a touchdown and the Vikings got the victory. The following week, the Vikings had to defeat the Packers to get to .500 and prevent falling to 3-5 with two losses in hand to Green Bay. Peterson responded with 30 carries for 192 yards and a TD.
The next game that fell into the "must-win" category was Week 13 against Chicago. Tied at the time atop the NFC North, with a loss earlier in the season at Soldier Field, a loss would likely have marked the end of a division title run – effectively putting the Vikings two games behind Chicago with four to play. Peterson stepped up and rushed 28 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks later, with a chance to cut their magic number to one to win the division, Peterson again came up huge against Arizona, rushing 28 times for 165 yards in another Vikings win.
The Giants will be far from pushovers when it comes to allowing Peterson to run wild. The Giants haven't allowed a rush of longer than 38 yards all season and have consistently held opposing rushers in check, with the notable exception of the eruption from the Carolina Panthers last week. The Giants are no strangers to facing top running backs. This season alone, they have faced Brian Westbrook and Clinton Portis twice, Marion Barber, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, Willie Parker and the three-headed beast from Baltimore. They know how to scheme against some of the game's top running backs and, for the most part, limit their production.
Peterson's name has been mentioned in the discussion of Most Valuable Player for the 2008 season and rightfully so. Despite a heaving workload that has included 23 carries a game and 110 yards a game, he still looks fresh and runs with authority every time he touches the ball. All that is missing in his 2008 season is that defining moment like he had against the Bears and Chargers last season. There would be no better stage to make the kind of statement the Vikings are looking for out of him than to do it against the defending Super Bowl champions, who are sitting atop the NFC knowing that if anyone is going to prevent them from returning to the Big Show, they're going to have to do it on their home field.
Sunday could provide that moment for Peterson, just as it has done in the recent past for players like Emmitt Smith, Jamaal Lewis, Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson – that one game with the eyes of the football world on them when their stars shine as brightly as ever. That chance is this week for Peterson.
Matchup to watch: A.D. vs. Giants front
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