Thus far in the history of The Play, we have trafficked in feats performed by members of the winning team. That rule has been suspended this week, not unlike the way Adrian Peterson is able, apparently, to suspend the physics of this universe.
Seriously, what was that?
A quick anecdote before we recount the most jaw-dropping play of Week 9, in which Peterson basically carries a small group of Cowboys into the end zone, like an ant leaving a picnic with a food item many times its body weight.
Two weeks earlier, as the Vikings prepared for Green Bay, a nagging hamstring kept Peterson out of practice. Upon entering the weight room after practice one day, recalls Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton, "I see Adrian, and he's doing squats with 500 pounds.'" Well, you guys are all really strong. Is that ... normal? "I don't squat 500 pounds, ever," replies Felton, who at 6-foot, 246 pounds, has 30 pounds on the reigning NFL MVP. "Here it is, Week 8, and he's in there, coming back from a hamstring injury, still squatting 500 pounds."
"That's AD for you."
Until last Sunday, Felton's favorite Peterson run was his 82-yarder against the Pack last December. I think it was third and one, he cuts outside, three guys hit him at the sideline ..." AD repelled those tacklers like a commuter pushing through a turnstile, then found his top gear on the way to the longest touchdown of his career.
That was his year, as Peterson came within nine yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, and the Vikings made it to the playoffs. This is neither his, nor Minnesota's year. The Vikings are 1-7, their quarterback situation is a hot mess, their GM reduced to offering assurances that the head coach's job is not in jeopardy, which often means the opposite.
So, no, it's not Peterson's year. But as he reminded the NFL on fourth-and-one with just under six minutes to play at Cowboys Stadium, every snap that he is on the field has the potential to become his play.
After failing to move the chains on third and-short, the Vikings went with "U personnel," Felton recalled, a day later: "Two tight ends, two backs and a wide receiver."
Dallas wrong-footed them by switching up its defense: five down linemen and two linebackers, instead of its usual 4-3. The middle back in the "I" formation, Felton had trouble finding the Will linebacker -- Ernie Sims -- whom he was supposed to block.
"We snapped the ball, the line did a great job firing out, I saw my guy flashing," says Felton, a Pro Bowler last season, after creating many of the lanes used by No. 28 to amass 2,097 rushing yards. After torpedoing through the line to wipe out Sims, "I could feel Adrian run right past me," he says. "I knew he got the first down. When I looked up, they had him wrapped up pretty good, but he was still driving his legs."
Jeff Heath has nothing to apologize for. The rookie strong safety, an undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State, was starting the second game of his career. He squared up on Peterson, who'd briefly broken into the clear, and initially won the collision. This is not a Bo Jackson bowling over Brian Bosworth.
"I mean, he was going back, his feet were off the ground," recounted Heath, "then one of their tight ends came in and kind of picked him up from behind."
This was the redoubtable Chase Ford, another rookie, who'd been elevated from the practice squad a week earlier. Like a rugby player "rucking on" to a maul, he first supported Peterson, arresting his backward momentum, then began pushing him toward the goal line.
Ford's arrival was preceded by a moment of stalemate, with several other Cowboys arriving at the ball, or in the process of arriving. Closing from behind, linebacker Justin Durant somehow bounces off Peterson. That second collision serves the purpose of righting the runner; it leaves him with both feet on the ground, facing forward in a kind of seated position, like a man about to perform a set of squats.
Defensive end Kyle Wilber approaches the scrum, but falls harmlessly aside. Vectoring in from AD's left, safety Barry Church makes a vain attempt to strip the ball, as does Heath, who'd forced Reggie Bush to fumble a week earlier, and who at this late juncture realizes that Peterson has become a juggernaut there is no stopping.
"I had a pretty good handle on the ball," he says. "It moved a little bit, but he was able to get his other hand over it and cover it up."
Escorted by Ford (we would say pushed, but that would be against the rules, and Ford was not flagged; so he must have been merely escorting), Peterson collapsed across the plane, his 11-yard touchdown giving Minnesota a 23-20 lead with 5:40 to play. The most remarkable scoring play of the weekend did not hold up. Tony Romo marched Dallas down the field. A week after essentially handing Detroit a game, the mercurial Cowboys once again edged over .500, and Peterson, who grew up 130 miles southeast of Cowboys Stadium, in Palestine, Texas, was left with "a sour taste" in his mouth.
Heath was left with a different residue, after going mano a mano with the best back of his generation. While the Cowboy defenders were obviously upset, with themselves, following that touchdown, they considered the source and found some consolation.
"This guy has the whole package: power, speed, moves. He'll outrun you, juke you, jump over you or run through you," the rookie said. "He does things you just don't see. We had a plan on how to tackle him, but ... he's going to get his. He was determined to get in the end zone, and we couldn't keep him out."
They were disappointed to have allowed that score, but the win took some of the sting out of it, says Heath. "Once you enjoy the win, and reflect for a little bit, you just kind of marvel at the stuff he does."