MINNEAPOLIS — Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, Adrian Peterson.
The company Adrian Peterson keeps among the NFL’s running backs is as exclusive a fraternity as there is in football. Peterson’s assault on Dickerson’s single-season rushing record fell short last year, but there’s never a lack for the records constantly in the sights of Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings’ MVP running back.
Peterson always felt he’d be among the group. After joining another hallowed club — this time reaching 10,000 yards rushing in his first seven NFL seasons — Peterson was asked what a 16-year-old version of himself would have said if he was told then he would eventually have his name on NFL lists like Dickerson and Brown.
“You’re right,” Peterson said of the way he would have responded as a 16 year old. “I would have believed it. This has been my mindset since I was young, to be the best to ever play. And you got to believe in yourself in order to accomplish it. So if you would have told me that, I would have been like, ‘He’s thinking what I’m thinking.'”
Peterson became the fifth player in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards rushing in his first seven seasons. He’s the third quickest to hit the mark, reaching the plateau in his 101st game, just off of Dickerson (91 games) and Brown (98). Minnesota needed every bit of his 211 yards rushing on Sunday to beat the Chicago Bears in 23-20 in overtime.
Peterson eclipsed 200 yards in a game for the fifth time in his career, which is tied for the second-most in NFL history and just one behind O.J. Simpson.
Legendary, Hall of Fame names; Peterson continues to put himself right along with the greatest backs of all time.
Vikings’ coach Leslie Frazier played with Walter Payton, once the league’s rushing leader and still considered by some the greatest running back to ever play. Could Peterson reach Payton’s level?
“In raw numbers, for sure,” Frazier said. “He’s still very young. I can’t imagine ever getting away from Adrian being the featured guy in the offense, so as long as we can put some more pieces around him — and that’s something that has to get done, like, in a hurry, because he’s not getting any younger. Yes, I could see him, numbers-wise, reaching that plateau and being the greatest running back of all time numbers-wise.”
How about aside from numbers, which Peterson might just have when it’s all said and done?
“Well, we’ve watched Mr. Payton play, and I’ve talked to Adrian about that a few times,” Frazier said. “But Adrian is, in today’s football, the best running back in pro football. Walter? He was pretty special. That would be a real good argument to have; who’s the best of all time? I love the fact that Adrian’s on our team. We don’t have to defend him. He’s incredible.”
Peterson has 10,027 rushing yards in his NFL career. He has four more games to possibly surpass Emmitt Smith (10, 160), Barry Sanders (10,172), LaDainian Tomlinson (10,650) and Dickerson (11,226) on the list for most rushing yards in the first seven seasons of a career. Peterson is already 28th on the all-time career rushing list.
“Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, those are guys I looked up to and guys that motivated me to be better than them,” Peterson said. “I still have a long ways to go. I reached this mark and it’s great. I give God all the glory for blessing me to be in this position and accomplish things I’ve accomplished so far. But I still have a long way to go to surpass those guys and that’s what I look to do.”
Peterson had been limited during the week, missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury he’s played through for three weeks. Come Sunday, it was another vintage performance from Peterson and the second 200-yard rushing day in his career against Chicago.
Asked if he was maybe missing the extra gear that has defined his career with game-breaking runs, Peterson offered a bit of resistance.
“What you think? Did you see it out there?” Peterson questioned. “I’ll be OK. Like I said, I’m going to continue to work on my body, strengthen my body and let my body rejuvenate and it’s another push to Sunday.”
Peterson finished with a career-high 35 carries against the Bear’s league-worst run defense. His long was 23 yards on Sunday, but he had enough to exploit Chicago’s defense. Peterson had 72 yards in the first half, 88 in the second half and then finished the game off with nine carries for 51 yards in overtime.
“He put us on his back,” tight end Rhett Ellison said.
“All the praise and stuff that he gets is well-deserved,” guard Charlie Johnson said. “He goes out and he busts his ass every day, and it picks everybody else up. It picks up the offensive line up, picks the tight ends, it picks the whole offense up knowing that if you bust your ass, you have a running back that’s going to give you everything he’s got.”
Peterson joked he had more in the tank and would have been good for 50 to 55 carries, if needed. Thirty-five was plenty for Peterson to add to his record totals and give Minnesota its third win of the season.
“I don’t know, medically, if you’ve ever seen a guy that carried the ball 35 times, rushed for 211 yards, what he’s doing, whether it be the hamstring earlier this season, and now the groin pull,” Frazier said. “So he’s amazing.”