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 Smiths 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?
Hes always been a self-motivated guy, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. He always wants to be the best running back ever. I dont know if its any more motivation than whats always been there. Hes 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 Dickersons 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.
Its 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. Im 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 hell face the stingiest defense hes seen yet. The Panthers rank seventh in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 92.3.
The Panthers arent backing down from the challenge.
Hes got to stop us too, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. Weve got to stop him, hes the best back in the league, but we feel were pretty good on defense. Itll 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 isnt just any running back. Several players in the Carolina locker room, as well as the teams defensive coordinator, called Peterson the best in the game.
Thats a good name, too, Hardy said. But I feel like why cant I be the best defensive end of this generation? Why cant we be the best defense of this generation? Why cant 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 Petersons game is his fumbles. Through four games, Peterson has lost two fumbles.
Despite that, Peterson presents a unique issue for Carolina. The Panthers know hes going to run the ball often, which makes preparing against the Vikings easy. But the fact that its Peterson whos getting the ball makes it tough, Rivera said.
A lot of teams dont have a guy like an Adrian on their team, Frazier said. He is so, so unique in what he does. A lot of teams dont emphasize the run like we do. Its because of how special he is as a player so its something that Im hoping that everyone who gets a chance to see him play, they realize that youre seeing.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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