No, Adrian Peterson did not break Eric Dickerson’s season record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984. He fell nine yards shy. No, he did not record the highest average yards-per-game in the course of a season. That record is still held by O.J. Simpson from his 1973 season with the Buffalo Bills. Nor did he come within 15 touchdowns of LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006 record of 28 touchdowns in a season. So with all this said, how then can one justify that Adrian Peterson had the best season ever for a running back in 2012?
Let’s go back to Christmas Eve of 2011. The Minnesota Vikings were playing the Washington Redskins in a meaningless game as both teams were out of playoff contention. It was the third quarter, and the Vikings gave Peterson the ball. It all happened so fast. As soon as Peterson passed the line of scrimmage, Redskins safety DeJon Gomes went low on Peterson’s left leg. He had to be helped off the field after writhing in pain, and it was soon confirmed by team doctors that Peterson had indeed torn both his ACL and MCL. The meaningless 2011 season was over, but the 2012 season was now in jeopardy.
Peterson refused to mope around. Days after his injury, he had the surgery, and promised Viking nation and the world of football that he would be ready for the 2012 season opener. Naturally there was much doubt, as players generally take an entire calendar year to get back to where they were prior to injury.
Adrian Peterson was back on the field practicing in under eight months and was ready to start the season opener on September 9.
He started the season slow, as one might expect. He was still gaining back some of the explosiveness that he had come to be known for. In fact, it took him until week four to run for his first 100-yard game, which he did against Detroit.
Then something changed. Week seven against the Arizona Cardinals came along and Peterson exploded for 153 yards. He would go on to run for 100 yards or more in every game for the rest of the season except in Week 16 against Houston, where he was held to 86 yards.
Most impressive was how Peterson ended the season. In the month of December alone, he ran for 861 yards which was more than the starting running backs of 15 teams accomplished throughout the entire season. Most importantly, however, this late effort allowed the Vikings to win their final four games and make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
So numbers aside, why is Adrian Peterson’s 2012 outing the best ever? Let’s put it this way, he was the Vikings offense. The Vikings’ passing offense was ranked 31 out of 32 teams, and when star receiver Percy Harvin went down, nobody else stepped up. Opposing defenses took advantage and put eight to nine men in the box. In other words, they knew Peterson was getting the ball…and they still couldn’t stop him.
The Vikings’ star player ran for 2,096 yards at the end of the season, and while this wasn’t enough to break Dickerson’s record, he carried the ball 31 less times than Dickerson. And he did all this ten months removed from an ACL and MCL tear.
While records and statistics won’t show it, these are the reasons why Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season is the greatest ever by a running back.