With two weeks left in the regular season, the race for MVP has been whittled down to a two-man contest, Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson.
While arguments can also be made for Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt, the reality is that Manning and Peterson both overcame impossible, insurmountable odds. And both performed at a level that exceeded all expectations.
Manning, as we know, underwent four neck procedures in a span of only 19 months, while Peterson tore his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve last year.
Those are the types of injuries that not only put you on injured reserve but, could end your career. That’s about as simple as it gets. Just ask Dennis Byrd, Daunte Culpepper, Terrell Davis, Gale Sayers, Sterling Sharpe and Chris Spielman, to name a few.
Returning to the field is a feat in itself, but Manning and Peterson also elevated their game (and their teams) in the process.
So far, Manning has thrown for 4,016 yards and 31 touchdowns. He’s lead the Broncos to an AFC West title and they’re projected to take the two-seed in the playoffs. He’s resurrected his career to new heights, something many believed impossible, even for No. 18.
Adrian Peterson, however, is on pace to break one of the most sacred, most revered records in NFL history: Eric Dickerson’s 1984 single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
For some perspective, the record is so daunting only three players have even broken 2,000 yards in that 28 year span: Terrell Davis (2,008 yards in 1998), Jamal Lewis (2,066 yards in 2003) and Chris Johnson (2,006 yards in 2009).
With 294 yards to go and two games remaining, the idea of Peterson breaking that record is astonishing. After his devastating injury, Peterson underwent extensive surgery, followed by a long and grueling rehabilitation process that commonly takes between seven and nine months.
And that process, along with immense dedication, only ensures a return to normal activity. And normal for running backs in the NFL is not the same as normal for you and me.
Peterson isn’t normal. He’s superhuman. Just look at his numbers - they don’t lie.
This season, Peterson has carried the ball 289 times, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and rushed for 1,812 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Last week at the Rams, Peterson ran for 212 yards on 24 carries, including an incredible 82-yard touchdown run, his longest of the season.
Can he produce those same stats at the Texans on Sunday? While it’s certainly possible (and, at this point, I wouldn’t dare bet against it), it’ll be arduous against the league’s fifth-ranked rushing defense. ESPN currently has Peterson’s projected season rushing total at 2,071 yards - 35 shy of surpassing the record.
But, if he does break Dickerson’s record, conventional wisdom says Peterson should be MVP, right?
In its 55 year history, quarterbacks have been selected MVP 37 times, compared to 17 for running backs; Manning himself has won it four times - the most of any player.
Quarterback bias shouldn’t be a factor this year and if it is, voters should consider Peterson the real QB of the Vikings. Most would agree that it’s Peterson, not Christian Ponder, who’s kept Minnesota competitive this season.
Dickerson, for his part, has made it perfectly clear. He doesn’t want Peterson to break his record. He told CBS Sports, “I don’t want him to break it. I’ll be honest. I don’t want to see it. If anyone ever broke it, and if my son played football, I’d want my son to break it. But that’s it. No one else.”
Dickerson was one of the most competitive players to ever put on an NFL uniform, so his sentiment is understandable.
But it’s time to pass the torch and Peterson is just as competitive, dedicated, talented and fearless as Dickerson was in his era.
Records were made to be broken and if Peterson succeeds, he should and will be MVP.