"My body feels good. I'm ready to go," Winfield said. "The season feels like it's just starting to me. A lot of guys are banged up. Some of them feel like they hit the wall. For me, it's like a fresh start. Without a doubt, this is the freshest I've ever been in my career and you will see that. You will see me every Sunday flying around making plays."
After missing the previous six games with a foot injury, Winfield returned to action last week against the Cincinnati Bengals and immediately made his presence felt. He led the team with nine tackles and forced a fumble that the Vikings recovered with four seconds left in the first half. They turned that into an immediate three points and headed to halftime with even more momentum and a 16-7 lead.
"He's just amazing," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of the 5-foot-9, 180-pound cornerback. "You look at his stature and you think there's no way he can come up with the hits he comes up with time and time again. He's just an amazing athlete, an amazing player, and a lot of the things that he does, I don't even know if you can really teach some of the things he does."
If history is any indication, Winfield could be in line for another big performance. The last time he faced the Carolina Panthers, as he will this Sunday night, he became only the third player in Vikings history to record four statistics on one play. He sacked QB Jake Delhomme, forced a fumble, recovered the fumble and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
It was one of the games that helped propel Winfield to the first Pro Bowl honor of his career. This year, after missing six games, he said the Pro Bowl isn't on his mind.
"I'm not even really thinking about the Pro Bowl. I've missed so much time. If I make it, great. If I don't, I won't be too sad," he said. "The only thing I'm thinking about is getting to the playoffs, getting to the Super Bowl and winning it."
Carolina coach John Fox said that Winfield's return to the lineup stuck out on tape.
"I think that their defense is playing outstanding and I already know that he is outstanding. He did a great job in his first game back," Fox said. "They have been a good team defense and there is no question that they got better with him being in there."
With the unsteady state of kicking in the NFL these days, the Vikings have the best in the game – at least according to field-goal percentage – with Ryan Longwell.
In his 13th NFL season, Longwell has made 22 of 23 field goals, and his 95.7 conversion rate leads the league.
"There is never a peak, there is never a valley. It's just a continuous rhythm, that unflappable rhythm," special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said of Longwell. "There are a lot of reasons for success and failure. I think that his is that constant consistent rhythm."
Vikings coach Brad Childress credited some of Longwell's success to the consistency of his long snapper and holder.
"He's got a great operation group with (long snapper) Cullen Loeffler, with (holder) Chris Kluwe and obviously he has a great concentration and focus," Childress said. "He has done it over a long period of time, but the minute you take those for granted – somebody doesn't do their job in the front or somebody sneaks off an edge – it comes back to bite you."
Murphy said he and Longwell talked during the spring and laid out a plan to keep Longwell fresh.
The Sunday night game against the Panthers and Vikings will feature two of the best running backs in the game. Peterson has 1,200 yards rushing this season. He could join Hall of Fame running backs Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders as the only players in NFL history to reach 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of their first three years in the league.
Since the start of the 2008 season, Peterson leads the league with 2,960 yards rushing and Carolina's DeAngelo Williams ranks third with 2,6198. Williams' 25 rushing touchdowns during that span rank third, and Peterson is fourth with 24.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.