Adrian Peterson is averaging a remarkable 6.3 yards per carry this season. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Adrian Peterson continues to close the gap on Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, and he may help carry the Vikings right into the playoffs too.
The amazing Peterson -- who is in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and MVP -- racked up 212 yards Sunday, in a 36-22 Vikings win over St. Louis. That performance bumped him up to 1,812 yards rushing on the season, 293 shy of Dickerson's record, set in 1984. Peterson must average 146.5 yards in Minnesota's final two games (at Houston, vs. Green Bay) to top Dickerson's mark.
Perhaps more importantly, Peterson's latest showing moved Minnesota to 8-6 and into a tie with (for now) the Giants and Bearsfor the NFC's sixth seed and final wild-card berth.
Peterson needed a little longer than normal to get going Sunday, against a St. Louis defense that had not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 8 (Stevan Ridley). On Minnesota's first drive, Peterson was stuffed for minus-three yards on five carries, and his last four rushes there went for negative yards.
But, breaking from the trend that has seen this Vikings offense grind to a halt without Peterson breaking big runs, Minnesota still managed to cap that drive with a touchdown. QB Christian Ponder made that possible, hitting on three passes to three different receivers, then running one in from five yards out to give the Vikings an early lead.
Peterson slowly found his legs after that. He gained 11 yards on three carries (though he had another negative run) during an unsuccessful second drive, before busting loose for an 82-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
The Vikings offense had trouble finding the end zone after that, but an Everson Griffen pick-6 and five Blair Walsh field goals proved more than enough to get by St. Louis.
Peterson has been saying for weeks that he thought he could challenge not just 2,000 yards but Dickerson's record, and he's backed those words up with a remarkable seven-week run. After averaging 83 yards over Minnesota's first six games -- a totally respectable number, considering Peterson entered 2012 off a major knee injury -- Peterson has put up 188.4 yards per game is his last eight outings.
He's topped 100 yards on the ground in each of those contests and gone over 200 twice in the last three weeks, making him the first running back since Tiki Barber in 2005 to top 200 yards multiple times in a calendar month.
Prior to this year, the best season of Peterson's career, yardage-wise, came back in 2008, when he reached 1,760 yards rushing and 1,885 all-purpose. He topped both of those numbers Sunday, an incredible testament to his recovery from his devastating knee injury.
The Vikings will need Peterson at his best in Weeks 16 and 17 -- following Sunday's action, Minnesota is in sixth place in the NFC based on tiebreakers. Still, anything shy of a 2-0 finish may not be enough to get this team into the playoffs.