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Updated: December 30th, 2012 9:36pm
Zulgad: Adrian Peterson falls short of record but shows he's NFL's MVP

Zulgad: Adrian Peterson falls short of record but shows he's NFL's MVP

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by Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago Sunday, Adrian Peterson was undergoing surgery to reconstruct the torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee that he had torn on Christmas Eve in Washington.

It was anyone's guess at that point if Peterson would ever return to the form that made him one of the NFL's elite running backs in his first five seasons.

One year later it's safe to say that Peterson is not the same running back. Not even close.

He's better than he was before the injury. He's also now the leading candidate to be the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

Peterson proved that again Sunday by rushing for 199 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown in the Minnesota Vikings' thrilling 37-34 victory over the Green Bay Packers at the Metrodome.

Peterson set up Blair Walsh's winning 29-yard field goal that came as regulation time expired by sprinting 26 yards to the Green Bay 11-yard line on the second-to-last play of the game. The victory gave the Vikings a playoff berth a season after finishing 3-13.

Think about that difference.

A year ago, the Vikings were completing one of the worst seasons in franchise history and Peterson's future appeared to be filled with question marks. A year later, the team is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 - the Vikings will face the Packers at Lambeau Field in a rematch at 7 p.m. next Saturday - and Peterson just completed a historic regular season.

If there was one thing that was tough for Peterson to accept Sunday evening, it was the fact that he had come so close to breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, which was set in 1984 with the Los Angeles Rams.

Peterson finished 9 yards shy of Dickerson's mark, going for 2,097 yards this season. That makes him the seventh player to surpass 2,000 yards rushing in a season and gives him the second best single-season total in NFL history.

Anyone who knows Peterson, or who has covered him, knows that second best in anything isn't going to cut it with him.

"It's a bittersweet feeling inside," Peterson said. "The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that I was 9 yards short was, 'It is what it is. It wasn't meant to happen.' Not to say it doesn't hurt because it does. Ultimately we came in here (Sunday) and accomplished the ultimate goal of getting a win and taking our team into the playoffs."

If there is one person who deserves the credit for the Vikings' turnaround it's Peterson. Without him, there is no way this team wins 10 games and there is no way they are playing next weekend in the first round of the playoffs.

There has been plenty of talk about Denver's Peyton Manning being the MVP, but the Broncos were a playoff team with Tim Tebow as their quarterback. Manning's comeback is a great story, but Peterson's is even better.

"(The MVP vote) has to go his way," said Jerome Felton, the fullback who helped block for Peterson this season. "He led us to playoffs, coming off the year they had last year and just to comeback and really be like the driving engine of this team. Yes, he's got to be the MVP."

Added defensive end Brian Robison: "In my mind, he's the best running back to ever play this game. I mean already. He's just that type of guy. He's a machine. In my mind, I think there are a lot of great players out there that definitely deserve to be in the MVP talk without a doubt. But he's the runaway favorite."

The Metrodome crowd agreed, chanting "MVP, MVP" after a few of Peterson's heroics. "I was really just taking in all of the love they were showing me," Peterson said when asked if he heard the chants. "I felt good."

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he was kept aware throughout the game of how many yards and carries Peterson had but said that no alterations were ever made with the rushing record in mind. Everything that was called on offense was done so with the intention of getting the win the Vikings had to have to reach the playoffs.

But after the Vikings earned that victory, Frazier added his thoughts on the MVP race.

"What is says is he is without question the best running back in our game and truly, the MVP of our league," Frazier said. "We don't win this game today without the effort of Adrian Peterson. When you think about the fact that every single game people are gearing their defense to stop you, it wasn't any different today. ... He's special in every way."

Felton admitted he kept track of Peterson's attempt to break Dickerson's rushing record by glancing at the updates on the Metrodome scoreboard. Peterson resisted the temptation to find out just how close he was getting.

"I never knew," he said. "I wasn't worried about it. I told myself to come to this game and focus on one thing, winning and doing my job to contribute to the running game and the passing game. If it happened, it would have come to me, but I don't want to focus on it at all. I wasn't focused on it. I went out and played my game and accomplished what we wanted to. We're in now. We're in the playoffs."

Peterson did not find out he had fallen short of the record until Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver told him after the game. While Peterson was disappointed, he knew that Dickerson was not. Dickerson made it no secret he did not want his record to fall.

"I know Eric Dickerson is feeling so good right now," Peterson said, laughing. "God willing I'll get it next year, or make it close."

What Peterson should get this season is the MVP award.

"I don't let rewards identify me," Peterson said when asked if he would be surprised not to get the honor. "I don't do that. I go out and don't let it define me. I define myself by what I do on the field. So whether I win it or not, I'm not going to say I don't want to, just like I wanted to break the record. Either way, in my heart, I'm the MVP and that's all that matters." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd