MINNEAPOLIS— For five weeks, the adjectives and accolades for Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin have been flying in much the same way the league’s all-purpose yardage has been flying past defenders this year.
His teammates have been calling Harvin the league’s best player, a league MVP for weeks as the extremely versatile and explosive hybrid receiver-running back-returner has electrified and energized the Vikings to perhaps the biggest surprise start in the NFL. After another standout performance in Sunday’s 30-7 win against the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen somehow found a new way to describe Harvin’s performance on the field.
“The dude, it’s like watching ‘Top Gun’ out there,” Allen said, while again referring to Harvin as the league’s best player. “He can hit the brakes and watch them fly right by. And then the dude smacks them, you’d think he was 260 pounds the way he runs the ball. It’s just so much fun to watch he and Adrian (Peterson) play.”
While Peterson is still a major part of the Vikings’ offense, the role as lead playmaker has been all Harvin in the past year since Peterson suffered a high-ankle sprain midway through last season and then had knee surgery. Harvin finished with career-highs across the board last year and is off to an even better start this season.
Sunday, he did it all again with eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown and added two carries for 8 yards, one a tough inside run for a touchdown, breaking tackles along the way.
But Allen’s description wasn’t more apt than for Harvin’s touchdown that essentially sealed Minnesota’s resounding win and kept the Vikings (4-1) tied for the lead in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.
Harvin, lined up just off the right tackle, took a short swing pass from quarterback Christian Ponder. With safety Jordan Babineaux lining him up for a tackle and a short gain, Harvin just stopped on a dime and Babineaux went sailing by. Harvin got up field a few yards before putting the same jump-stop and cut on linebacker Colin McCarthy, who fell past him. Then Harvin bulled through tackle attempts by linebacker Akeem Ayers and cornerback Jason McCourty on his way to a jaw-dropping 10-yard touchdown and a 23-0 Minnesota lead late in the third quarter.
“I don’t know how he does it,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We always say, ‘We wish we could have that speed and balance just for one day.’ Just to see what it’s like.”
In addition to the admiration from teammates, Harvin hears the frustration from opposing defenders. Whether he’s beating them with his speed, or his innate power for 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, defenders are left to plead for forgiveness.
“A lot of times in the pile guys will be saying stuff to me like, ‘Man I can’t believe you’re that strong’ or ‘Slow down, stop coming that hard,'” Harvin said. “It’s all good stuff. I’m not worried about that. I’m just worried about getting my job done.”
Ponder, who’s been the beneficiary of several Harvin highlights off of short passes, said he watches in awe as Harvin does things rarely seen in the league, especially from someone
“I saw someone call him a beast, that’s probably a good word to describe him,” Ponder said. “He’s so athletic and that touchdown catch that he had making all those guys miss was unbelievable. We’re going to keep giving him the ball and he’s going to keep making plays.”
Harvin, who entered Sunday tied for third in the league with 30 receptions and also had an NFL-high 698 all-purpose yards, said he’s humbled by the praise from his teammates and the talk of MVP, even pointing out some of the stars on his own team such as Peterson. Asked about the offensive line offering the glowing reviews after Sunday’s game, Harvin credited the line’s work.
“That’s the special thing about this team,” Harvin said. “I’ll put it on them and they’ll put it on me. We’re in this together. As long as we’re coming out with the victory, I could care less how we got it. This team, we’re a close-knit team and we’re just going to keep fighting and hope the result is we keep coming with wins.”
Even last week, when the Detroit Lions focused on Harvin and limited him to a season-low three catches, he made a lasting impact by returning the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown. Being so versatile — he added a 45-yard catch down the sideline on a go-route Sunday — he’s virtually impossible to keep down for long.
Harvin now has 38 catches for 407 yards and a touchdown this season and has added 13 carries for 62 yards and another touchdown. He entered Sunday with a league-leading 38.3 average on kick returns. And Harvin’s momentary frustration during minicamp this summer, when he reportedly had asked for a trade and said he complained about the identity of the offense, seems forgotten.
“Whether that’s in the backfield, in the slot, at wideout, returning kicks, he’s a terrific football player,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We all know that. It’s so obvious, but the emotion that he plays with the way that he practices — he practices hard. It’s a great example for our young players and just what it means to be a pro. So I’m just glad he’s a part of our team. Glad he’s doing the things he’s doing. He’s been fantastic.”