Adrian Peterson peeked up at the video board at the end of his 82-yard touchdown run and saw St. Louis Rams players trailing far behind him.
And with each fancy high-step to cap it off, the Minnesota Vikings running back moved closer to the NFL rushing record.
Peterson piled up a season-best 212 yards on 24 carries in a 36-22 victory Sunday that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. He has a career-best 1,812 yards rushing, leaving him 294 shy of breaking the NFL’s single-season mark of 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.
”Yeah, yeah, I was able to see myself,” Peterson said. ”I just told myself to stay relaxed and `You don’t have to put on too much juice, but make sure you get there.”’
He remained hot on the trail of Dickerson’s record. Peterson, less than a year removed from a serious knee injury, has two games left — at Houston and home against Green Bay — to top it.
”Yeah, it’s been in my sights,” Peterson said. ”I’m not focusing on it. It’s in the back of my head that, hey I definitely want to accomplish that.
”I look at today’s game and I could have had 300.”
Slight consolation for the Rams: Without his two longest runs, Peterson had 78 yards on 22 carries.
”He’s very elusive, very elusive,” tackle Michael Brockers said. ”You’ve got to get all tacklers to the ball. On some of the big runs, we didn’t do that very well.”
On Peterson’s long touchdown run in the second quarter, he was able to turn what appeared would be a short gain into a big score.
”He continues to amaze you with some of his runs,” coach Leslie Frazier said. ”It looks like there was nothing there and the next thing you know he’s out the door.”
The Vikings (8-6) scored 10 of their 23 points in the second quarter off turnovers by Sam Bradford, including a 29-yard interception return by defensive end Everson Griffen, who had dropped into coverage. The Rams quarterback watched in disbelief from his knees.
”Yeah, that’s one of those things I’ve got to be able to see,” Bradford said. ”He’s right there. You can’t throw one right to him like that.”
They were up by 26 before Bradford, whose botched center snap also cost the Rams (6-7-1) a field goal in the second quarter, threw touchdown passes to Danny Amendola and Lance Kendricks in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings remained in the playoff picture while seriously damaging the Rams’ postseason hopes. St. Louis had won three in a row to become a dark horse candidate for the playoffs.
Steven Jackson became the 15th player to rush for 10,000 yards for one team. He had 73 yards on just eight carries and has 909 yards on the year, keeping him in range of an eighth straight 1,000-yard season.
A moment of silence was observed for victims of the Connecticut elementary school shooting before the national anthem, with dozens of children wearing jerseys holding hands with players in a circle extending from the 30-yard lines and centered on the Rams’ logo at midfield.
In a tribute to the 26 victims, each team sent the players wearing the No. 26 jersey — Rams running back Daryl Richardson and Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield — and they held hands with coaches Jeff Fisher and Frazier to form a smaller interior circle.
”What went through my mind? I have a son that’s in kindergarten,” Jackson said. ”You drop your kid off at school and he or she wants to go there and learn and better themselves, and to then go to the school and find that your child will no longer be with you, I couldn’t imagine that thing.”
Peterson topped his previous single-season best of 1,760 yards in 2007 on a 52-yard run in the fourth quarter. On both long runs, Peterson made something out of nothing with nimble cutbacks to daylight.
Christian Ponder had a turnover-free game and ran for the game’s first score for the Vikings, who had been just 1-5 on the road, with the other victory at Detroit in September. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was perfect on five field-goal attempts, three of them from 50 yards and beyond.
The Rams shut down Peterson on the first drive — holding him to minus-3 yards on five carries — but not Ponder on the Vikings’ opening drive. Benefiting from a short field at the St. Louis 45, the quarterback was 3-for-3 for 38 yards plus a 5-yard scramble that put them up 7-0.
Rookie Brian Quick won a jump ball with A.J. Jefferson in the end zone on a 4-yard reception, landing just inbounds to tie it early in the second quarter.
Then, the Vikings took over.
Peterson had eight carries for 8 yards before breaking his 82-yard score on the next play.
”It’s all about famine, famine, feast,” Peterson said. ”We knew it was going to be tough early and our offensive line was dialed into it. We just kept pounding them.”
Walsh’s 50-yard field goal made the Rams pay for Bradford’s botched snap and Griffen’s first career interception and return gave Minnesota 17 points in a span of just 3:56.
”He threw it right to me,” Griffen said. ”It was a dream come true. I want to say `Thank you, Sam Bradford.”’
Peterson entered the day with more rushing yards than 23 teams, including the Rams, and accounted for more than two thirds of the Vikings’ 322 yards. Ponder was a facilitator, going 17 for 24 for 131 yards.
Throw out the costly mistakes and it looks as if Bradford was on his game, going 35 for 55 for 377 yards. Jackson caught eight passes for 73 yards, and Brandon Gibson and Amendola had six receptions each.
NOTES: Griffen stepped up for the Vikings in place of DE Brian Robison (shoulder), injured in the first quarter and ruled out just after halftime. Frazier said Robison has an AC sprain and will undergo an MRI exam on Monday. … Bradford has been sacked in 30 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. … The Vikings’ previous best for the first half was 17 points in two games, and four times they were held to single digits. … The Rams are 5 for 6 on 2-point conversions after Amendola’s catch in the fourth quarter.