Peterson is chasing Erick Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. He has 1,812 yards with two games remaining. While that may seem like a large gap with only two games remaining, he has averaged 192 yards over his past three games.
Johnson is chasing Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season of 1,885. He has 1,667. It would appear that the 218 yards he needs for the record is within reach. Last week, he tied the record for consecutive 100-yard games in row at seven.
Both records are impressive and each player should be proud to even be close to breaking either of them. But, which chase has been more impressive?
It is not often that a wide receiver can be named a one-man team, but Johnson fits that title. The Detroit Lions rank only 21st in rushing. To make matters worse, Johnson has been left with a weak supporting cast among receivers.
Three different players have tried to step into the second WR position. Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles were each lost for the season due to injuries. Titus Young had his opportunity to fill that spot; however, he was sent home for the season for disciplinary reasons.
Brandon Pettigrew is the top tight end on the team. He has now missed the last two games due to injuries. His 57 catches and 556 yards both rank second on the team. With him out, this means that the team entered their game against Arizona with Joique Bell, the backup running back, as the teams’ second leading pass catcher.
The rest of the receiving unit is now filled out by practice squad, special team and other players found deep into their depth chart. Entering the Arizona game, Kris Durham was the teams’ second best wide receiver.
He entered the game with only four catches on the season.
Even before the injuries, teams were loaded up against Johnson. Now with a running attack that defenses do not respect and a weak receiving unit, Johnson is the sole focus. While he is used to facing double teams, now teams can place a third defender near him. It is not uncommon for him to have two defenders line up across from him.
Despite the extra attention, Johnson has been able to keep piling up the catches and yardage. Teams just cannot seem to contain his dangerous mix of speed, height and route running.
Like Johnson, Peterson can be labeled a one-man team. In Peterson’s case, the team does not have much of a passing attack. The Minnesota Vikings rank last in the league for passing yards. The little success that they did have in the passing game went away with Percy Harvin’s injury in Week 9.
Now defenses can stack the line in order to stop him. Like Johnson, he too has had to overcome extra attention from defenses. He has topped 150 yards six times this season. He also has broken the 200-yard mark twice. Despite the attention he receives, he has been able to average 6.3 yards per carry.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Peterson is that he is doing this on a rebuilt knee.
On December 24th of last season, he suffered a knee injury that tore his ACL. The Richmond Bone and Joint Clinic claims that, on average, players come back from this injury after 10.8 months of rehabilitation work.
That does not assume that they are back to their previous level of play, just that they are able to play.
With Peterson’s injury happening at the end of the season, it was assumed that he would miss some part of the 2012 season. He surprised everyone when he was ready to start the first game of the season. The season started off slowly as he averaged only 76 yards through the first three games and 83 after six games.
That quickly changed; over the past eight games, he has pushed that average up to 164 yards.
In the end, both of these players have had impressive seasons. But, Peterson does get the nod as the most impressive for two reasons.
First, his team is 8-6 and fighting for a playoff spot. Johnson’s team is only 4-10 and hoping for a playoff spot...next year. Setting a record is great, but setting one while helping the team be successful is even better. When Rice and Dickerson set their records, both of them made the playoffs.
Secondly, the fact that Peterson is doing this so soon after such an extensive injury is amazing. Not only has he come back so quickly after the injury, but he has been dominant as well.
His current 6.3 yards per attempt is by far a career best.
The final two weeks of the season will be exciting as these two great players continue to chase each record. Peterson will finish against the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers. He rushed for 210 yards against the Packers a few weeks ago. While they will likely be amped up to stop him, they also will probably have nothing to play for either.
This should result in several players resting for the playoffs, which should allow Peterson to make up whatever gap remains. He needs 293 yards, an average of 146.5 per game, in order to reach the record.
With the way he has been playing, it is hard to bet against him breaking the record.
Johnson and the Lions will finish the season against the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears. Both teams will be fighting for playoff positioning when they play the Lions. Johnson will continue to receive most of the attention from the defense, but, he too should still be able to break the record.
With two of the biggest single-season records possibly falling in the same season, this will make the 2012 season a historic one.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings, as well as many other sports.
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