By Brandon Niles
Explorebigsky.com Sports Columnist
Over the past several years, the passing game in the NFL has produced eye-popping statistics. A 5,000-yard passing season used to be a rarity, yet we’ve seen four such seasons in just the last two years. Drew Brees became the first quarterback in the history of the game to pass for more than 5,000 yards in back to back seasons, and passing records are being eclipsed each year.
This quarterback success trickles down to the wide receiver position as well. Calvin Johnson broke the record for most receiving yards in a season this year, and just nine of the 39 players in NFL history with at least 10,000 receiving yards accomplished the feat before 1995. As pass interference rules – and specifically illegal contact rules – become more stringent, passing statistics have dramatically increased. This is a passing league.
However, one player stood out as a reminder of more traditional football this season. Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, has been completely dominant this year, and is the primary reason they made the playoffs.
Approximately a year ago, Peterson had ACL surgery and was told his status as a starter in the 2012 season was in question. Throughout the off-season, football fans had no idea what to expect from Peterson, and the discussion of elite running backs in the NFL stopped at LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and Ray Rice.
Peterson not only proved the pundits wrong, starting the season with a phenomenal three touchdown performance, but finished the year with 2,097 rushing yards. It was second most in NFL history and nearly 500 yards more than the runner up this season, Alfred Morris of the Redskins.
Not only did Peterson rush for so many yards, he did it while averaging six yards per carry and was second in the league in rushing attempts. All of this production after such a serious knee injury has catapulted Peterson back into the discussion as best in the league, and even the league MVP this season.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are both deserving of the MVP award. But Peterson had a historic year. Only the seventh running back in NFL history to record 2,000 yards in a season, he did it on a team that struggled offensively. Peterson averaged six yards per carry against defenses that were focusing on him each and every week.
Even in the final week of the season, when the Green Bay Packers knew Peterson was going to be the focal point of the Vikings offense, they couldn’t stop him. He finished the game with 199 yards on the ground, placing him only eight yards shy of the single-season record. The Vikings won the game, lifting them into the playoffs as a result.
Other players certainly had excellent years, but Peterson should win the MVP hands down. This was historic, in an era when running the football is not emphasized as it used to be, even just a decade ago. To accomplish this feat a year after having ACL surgery makes it all the more impressive. He was the primary reason why the Vikings – which only won three games a year ago – finished ten and six and are in the playoffs, making this season legendary. Peterson deserves all the recognition he receives for this inspiring effort, and football fans everywhere should be happy they got to witness it.