Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered major damage to his left knee against the Washington Redskins. So significant, in fact, that there are serious long-term concerns about Peterson's ability, according to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
No one in the Vikings' locker room would say it. But the vibe was apparent, that one monstrous unanswerable question hovering in the air like stale cigar smoke: Had we seen the last of Adrian Peterson?
Not in the sense that Peterson never will play again. No one in the Vikings organization has the stomach to even consider that fate at this early stage of the injury. But if and when Peterson can return to action, will this injury sap him of his trademark explosiveness?
It's questions like those that make you wonder why the Vikings ever allowed Peterson back on the field in the first place. You may remember that the dynamic rusher missed three games with an ankle injury before returning just two weeks ago.
To suffer a potentially career-altering injury in a virtually meaningless game is certainly tough to swallow for both Peterson and the team. It's also a lesson to be learned from for all NFL teams.
Even though Peterson was probably pushing to get back on the field before season's end, the Vikings should have played it safe with their best player. There was nothing for them to gain from sending him back out there other than heartbreak, and that's exactly what they got.
Now they will enter the offseason with question marks galore, even though they are hopeful he'll be ready for Week 1, based on an NFL.com report. Peterson has been one of the few constants in Minnesota over the past few years and now even his status is unknown.
For a team already undergoing a minor rebuild, that makes the front office's job even tougher. Especially since it's unknown if Toby Gerhart can carry the load for an extended period if need be.
That's important because Christian Ponder showed he isn't ready to survive without a reliable running game yet.
All those issues could have been avoided if they would have just kept him sidelined for the rest of the season. It's not an easy decision to make when a star player is itching to get back in the lineup, but the team's future is far more important than having a disgruntled player for a few weeks.
Hopefully Peterson is able to recover without any setbacks and can resume his role as one of the NFL's most dangerous backs. Not just for the Vikings' sake, but because the league is more entertaining when he's busting off long runs and making the difficult seem routine on a weekly basis.
The only guarantee to emerge from this situation is that every other team is watching it very closely. Don't be surprised if a lot more superstars sit out late in future seasons if their teams are eliminated from playoff contention and they have a nagging injury.
Attempting to win a December game without playoff implications simply isn't worth risking more serious damage. It's a lesson the Vikings learned to hard way on Christmas Eve.