If the NFL season were to end today, the Minnesota Vikings would visit the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round of the Playoffs. The primary reason why, as well as the primary reason why the Vikings beat the Saint Louis Rams 36-22 Sunday, is because of the dominance of one of the greatest running backs of all time. Known since childhood as All Day (AD), the running back also known as Adrian Peterson has lifted his team and carried them into playoff contention with the best season of his career.
In the most recent excerpt from his brilliant career, Peterson ripped through the Rams for 212 yards on 24 carries. His 82-yard touchdown run propelled the Vikings to break open what had been a tied contest and forge their way to an eventual 30-7 halftime lead. The Vikings' total yardage for the day? Try 322 yards. Now, any questions about Peterson's impact?
For a moment forget about the fact that 51 weeks ago Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in a game at Washington. For a moment forget about the fact that some careers have been severly altered and indeed ended, with that level of destruction to the knee. The NFL has never seen a recovery from this severe an injury so fast and so complete.
If one focuses upon the insanity of Peterson's ability to produce a career season - even for him - coming off of major knee surgery, then the focus on the actual impact he is having on a team fighting to make the playoffs, will likely be lost. This loss of focus will lead to the temptation of merely passing Peterson off as a good "comeback player of the year candidate" while giving the Most Valuable Player Award to this year's quarterback of choice, whomever that may wind up being.
In point of fact, given that Peterson only actually missed the final game of the season last year, a fair question really becomes, is he even a "comeback" player?
In contrast, Denver's Peyton Manning missed all of last year and is having a great comeback year returning after multiple neck surgeries. What he is accomplishing is also nothing short of remarkable. Given that, should Manning not win the Comeback Player of the Year Award and/or the MVP Award? The Broncos are currently in first place and have a chance of becoming the number one seed in the AFC playoffs.
Perhaps comeback player of the year, yes - particularly if Peterson is not really considered having been away - but MVP no. The Broncos were a playoff team last year who also advanced a round. Even if Manning did not arrive in the Mile High City, so far the Broncos have not accomplished anything that should not have been expected of them anyway, even with Tim Tebow still their quarterback.
Peterson on the otherhand, has had to shoulder the load on a team that produced just three wins last year, and then during the ninth game of the season, lost the most versatile playmaker in all of football, Percy Harvin. Through eight games this season, Harvin's 60 catches led the league. His combined yards from returns, receiving and rushing also led the NFL. For the first half of the season, there was arguably not a better choice for MVP at that time than Harvin. In Seattle, Harvin injured his ankle and was lost for the rest of the season along with him, so to Christain Ponder's passing production.
Enter Adrian Peterson.
When Harvin was on the field, AD was having an incredible season. In those nine games Peterson rushed for 957 yards and six touchdowns, on a whopping 5.6 yards-per-carry average. His 106 yards-per-game average was putting him on pace for a season total 1,696 yards. Once-upon-a-time that amount of yardage along with a double-digit touchdown total would always put a running back in contention for an MVP Award. An intriguing issue at the season's midpoint was, who was a better choice for league MVP, the league-leading Peterson, or the league-leading Harvin? Without question, with the two of them on the field, it was a lethal combination, but now the Vikings have been reduced to one "homerun hitter".
Since Harvin has been out of the lineup, Peterson has now raised his game from incredible, to a level that is beyond anything the NFL has ever seen at his position. Peterson, in the five games since Harvin's injury, with every defense now stacking the box against him, has rushed for 855 yards on a ridiculous seven yards-per-carry average! His 171 yards-per-game average during this stretch, would prorate over a full 16-game season to an astonishing 2,736 yards!
While Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson's single-seaon rushing record of 2,105 yards has stood since 1984, Peterson's torrid stretch - if sustained for a full year - would absolutely dwarf that yardage total. As it stands - Peterson, needing another 294 yards over the final two weeks, might be able to break Dickerson's 28 year-old record, a record that has rarely been seriously challenged, but the MVP Award should not be based upon Peterson becoming the new record holder. A running back should not be required to have the greatest single-season on record in order to gain recognition as the league's MVP.
Given the very uphill battle the Vikings face in order to make the playoffs, in spite of being the current sixth seed, making the playoffs should also not be a requirement for Peterson gaining recognition as the league's MVP. In order for AD's team to qualify for post-season, an upset in Houston against arguably the best team in the NFL, and a home victory over the NFC North Division Champion Packers, would almost certainly be required and still may not even be good enough.
No, what Peterson has done during this five-game stretch should have separated him from all others when it comes to the discussion for this year's MVP Award. In the five games since Harvin has been out, Ponder has passed for 721 yards (144 yards-per-game), that is 134 yards fewer than Peterson has rushed for. AD has rushed for five touchdowns in that span of time, Ponder has passed for four. The magnitude of what Peterson has done to keep the Vikings at 3-2 in Harvin's absence can be easily under-appreciated if viewed only from the standpoint of the anomaly of his robot-like recovery.
In this age when a quarterback is given the Associated Press MVP Award almost automatically, this practice needs to stop. From the years 2001 to 2011, ten quarterbacks and two running backs have won the award (both Peyton Manning and the late Steve McNair were co-MVPs in 2003). In 2012, no player is carrying a team in post-season contention like Peterson is carrying his, and while a handful of other players are having standout seasons - some of whom do happen to be quarterbacks - no other player in the NFL is having the phenomenal season that AD is having.
At the end of the season Peterson may hold the record for most yards rushing in a single game (which he does already at 296), and the most yards rushing in a season. Even if AD does not claim both records at season's end, he should not have to in order to recieve the proper honor and recognition that he is due. Afterall, is it the Most Valuable Player Award or is it the Most Valuable Quarterback Award? If it is the former, then this year the award should go to the man known as All Day.