Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson came 9 yards shy of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record last year.
His 9,270 career rushing yards through 86 games have him on pace to break Emmitt Smith’s all-time career record in 85 games; or in another way, in three and a half fewer seasons than it took the Hall of Fame Smith.
Peterson is already the best running back of this generation, but why stop there?
“He’s always been a self-motivated guy,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “He always wants to be the best running back ever. I don’t know if it’s any more motivation than what’s always been there. He’s always working hard to be the best.”
Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in December 2011 and he returned in Week 1 of the 2012 season eight months after his surgery. His 2,097 rushing yards last year were good for second-most in a season in NFL history, placing him among six other men who had broken the 2,000-yard plateau and earning his first NFL MVP title.
This offseason he boldly set his goal at 2,500 yards for the 2013 season, which would blast Eric Dickerson’s 1984 mark of 2,105 yards. Peterson thought too much was made of his lofty goal, saying that it tends to always come up in interviews and conversations.
But those high goals are what it takes to become the best ever.
“It’s just continuing to play with a passion that I play with, first and foremost. I think the No. 1 ingredient is having faith and continue to believe,” Peterson said. “You also got to put the work in as well. I’m not getting any younger, so with that the offseason is very important as far as taking care of your body, getting faster, getting stronger. Just continuing to climb that ladder. Just doing those things and I should be able to do what I say.”
Peterson is averaging 105 rushing yards per game, but Sunday he’ll face the stingiest defense he’s seen yet. The Panthers rank seventh in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 92.3.
The Panthers aren’t backing down from the challenge.
“He’s got to stop us too,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “We’ve got to stop him, he’s the best back in the league, but we feel we’re pretty good on defense. It’ll be a great matchup.”
Outspoken defensive end Greg Hardy had the same mentality. Often when asked about a particular matchup, Hardy will simplify it to one defensive end going up against another running back.
Of course, Peterson isn’t just any running back. Several players in the Carolina locker room, as well as the team’s defensive coordinator, called Peterson the best in the game.
“That’s a good name, too,” Hardy said. “But I feel like why can’t I be the best defensive end of this generation? Why can’t we be the best defense of this generation? Why can’t the Panthers be the best team of this generation? He can think like that, everybody else can too.”
The only blemish Ron Rivera can see in Peterson’s game is his fumbles. Through four games, Peterson has lost two fumbles.
Despite that, Peterson presents a unique issue for Carolina. The Panthers know he’s going to run the ball often, which makes preparing against the Vikings easy. But the fact that it’s Peterson who’s getting the ball makes it tough, Rivera said.
“A lot of teams don’t have a guy like an Adrian on their team,” Frazier said. “He is so, so unique in what he does. A lot of teams don’t emphasize the run like we do. It’s because of how special he is as a player so it’s something that I’m hoping that everyone who gets a chance to see him play, they realize that you’re seeing.”
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