As Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, Adrian Peterson knew two things. First and foremost, Peterson knew the Minnesota Vikings were headed to the playoffs. Secondly, he knew that he had just finished one of the most fantastic and improbable seasons in NFL history.
What he didn't know is how close he was to breaking Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old single-season rushing record. Nine yards. Nine whole yards is what separated Peterson from etching his name into the record book.
Peterson had a game for the ages. As the Vikings tried to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the team knew where their bread would be buttered. In the month of December, Peterson had been lights out, and the team had won three straight.
Adrian Peterson set an NFL record for the most rushing yards in any month with 861 yards in December.— Judd Zulgad (@1500ESPNJudd) December 31, 2012
Having already rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns, Peterson took the field with 2,000 total rushing yards in his rear-view mirror and Dickerson's record in his sights. Ponder completed a 25-yard strike to Michael Jenkins, who wisely got out of bounds. Peterson then rushed for seven and four yards on the next two plays.
Walsh, a Pro Bowl-caliber kicker as a rookie, only needed a few more yards to be in automatic range. He got those from Peterson, who scampered 11 yards and leaped into he air, knowing he would be playing playoff football the next weekend.
What if Morgan Burnett hadn't gotten over quick enough? What if Peterson hadn't been stuffed the play before? What if a false-start penalty on Phil Loadholt hadn't stalled a drive late in the third quarter?
None of that really mattered to Peterson after the game. He just basked in the glory of the win.
First & foremost, giving all glory & honorto GOD because w/o him we wouldn't be sitting where we are now!! Getting ready for post season!— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) December 31, 2012
An Uphill Climb Back
Nine yards hardly seems significant compared to where Peterson was 12 months ago.
One year before this almost-historic performance, to the day, Peterson was lying on the operating table of Dr. James Andrews, who needed to repair both Peterson's ACL and MCL. Peterson wasn't sure exactly when he would be coming back, but he was positive he would—with a vengeance.
Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times profiled Peterson at the beginning of December and came away with this gem:
Peterson is blessed with many things, but patience isn’t among them. After surgery on New Year’s Day, there were 209 days until training camp opened at Minnesota State University in Mankato. Sugarman explained to Peterson that there were six phases to recovery and that the timetable was eight months. ‘‘To think that it’ll happen before that timeframe is unrealistic and probably not safe,” Sugarman said...
In the 10th week, they headed to the leg press to gauge strength. Sugarman and the strength coach loaded 200 pounds on the machine. Peterson wanted more. ‘‘I was like, ‘This is too light,’ ” Peterson said. “ ‘I’m not getting any work done. I need you to bump this weight up.’ ”
Said Sugarman: ‘‘I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown.’’
What Peterson accomplished in 2012 has to be viewed in the light of what he accomplished in the days following that surgery.
To some extent, it's also a credit to the fantastic work of Dr. Andrews and the miracle of modern medicine. Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles also managed a fantastic return from ACL surgery this season. Charles, along with Peterson, will give future backs hope when they hear that distinctive pop in their knee.
Is it possible Adrian Peterson was rebuilt with bionic parts?— Maggie Hendricks (@maggiehendricks) December 30, 2012
Peterson hit the ground running, but wasn't able to hit "midseason form" as early as he would normally like. Yet, if one were to ask the Vikings, they would be completely fine with the time he chose to peak.
Regardless of how the Vikings do this postseason and whether voters make Peterson the MVP, Comeback Player of the Year or Offensive Player of the Year, what he was able to do in 2012 was amazing—and not just in December or during the regular season. His work started in January of last year.
That's what sets Peterson apart from every other back in the NFL. That's what makes him great.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.