With his Minnesota Vikings clinging to a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Adrian Peterson took a handoff and made a quick side step to his right. He dashed through an opening on the line, leaped over a defender diving at his feet, shoved off another and raced 60 yards downfield for what would be the difference-making score in the Vikings' 34-27 win.
"Making big plays to help the team is what I dream about," said Peterson, whose long run in London last Sunday gives him 12 career 60-yard touchdown runs, the most by anyone in the history of the league. "A big run at a key moment can swing the momentum of a game."
Big plays are of critical importance in the NFL, as they not only pick up yardage and often points, but can turn the direction of a game in an instant.
According to SportingCharts.com, the Philadelphia Eagles have been the most explosive team in the league this season, leading all comers with 37 big plays. A big play is designated by a rushing gain of over ten yards or a passing gain of over 25 yards. With speedsters like Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson on the field, Chip Kelly's high flying offense is tops in the league in both categories and converts big plays at 13.86 percent clip.
McCoy and Vick are both among the top five in runs of 20 yards or more with three apiece. Oakland's quarterback-running back duo of Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden are tied atop that list along with San Francisco's Frank Gore.
Jackson, with eight receptions of at least 20 yards, is tied for second in that category. Speedy Baltimore wideout Torrey Smith leads the league with 11.
Interestingly enough, the data suggests that explosive plays don't necessarily equate to wins (the Eagles are 1-3, after all). Of the top 10 big-play teams, only four have winning records. The undefeated Chiefs and Patriots, rank 12th and 18th, respectively.
Picking up big plays on offense may not result directly in wins, but allowing them on defense does seem to result in losses. The five teams that have given up at least 24 big plays this season -- the Redskins, Bills, Vikings, Chargers and Jaguars -- have a combined record of 6-15.
No matter what the numbers say, however, breaking long plays remains an integral focus of all NFL offenses.
As someone who still has to face Peterson's game-breaking ability twice this season, McCarthy ought to know.