Adrian Peterson turned in one of the best seasons by a running back in NFL history in 2012 and he capped it off with the NFL's highest individual award. Peterson was named the NFL MVP on Saturday, beating out Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Even though the award tends to go to quarterbacks, Peterson's historic season was enough to put him over the top.
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Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, just nine yards shy of breaking the NFL single-season rushing record. This feat is all the more incredible given that Peterson tore his ACL last season and had major knee surgery in December of 2011. Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per attempt this season, tied for the highest among qualified running backs. His yards per carry were just slightly less than the 6.08 yards per attempt Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder averaged this season.
While he topped the 1,000-yard mark in four of the first five seasons of his career, Peterson took it to another level in his sixth NFL season. Washington's Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL in rushing with 1,613 yards, a whopping 484 yards behind Peterson. Peterson finished with 12 touchdowns, tied for third among running backs.
Additionally, Peterson had to overcome a slow start attributable to his recovery from the knee surgery. He started the season with a limited workload, rushing just 33 times over the first two games. Through the first six games of the year, Peterson had 499 rushing yards, good for an average of 83.2 yards per game. He topped 100 yards just once in those six games, but beginning in Week 7, he went on a tear unlike anything ever accomplished.
Peterson rushed for 1,598 yards over the final 10 games of the season an average of 159.8 yards per game. He scored 10 of his 12 touchdowns over that span, topping the 200-yard mark twice. It would be nearly impossible to choose which game was Peterson's best of the season. He ran for a season-high 212 yards and a touchdown against St. Louis, but averaged 10.7 yards per carry while rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle.
As the Vikings were attempting to play their way into the playoffs, Peterson was at his best. He ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a crucial 21-14 win against Chicago. He was even better the next week, rushing for 212 yards while averaging 8.8 yards per carry in a victory over the St. Louis Rams. At 9-6, the Vikings had to beat the Packers in Week 17 to make the playoffs and once again, Peterson did not disappoint. He ran for 199 yards and a touchdown while also catching a touchdown in the Vikings' 37-34 win. Not only did he produce against Green Bay, but he was at his best when the Vikings needed him the most. He ran for 36 yards on the final drive, putting Minnesota in field goal range for the game-winning kick.
Over the final nine games of the season, Peterson averaged less than 5.0 yards per carry just once. He topped 8.0 yards per carry four times over that stretch including two games where he averaged 10.0 yards per carry or better. He ran for 654 yards and scored five total touchdowns over the final five games as Minnesota clinched a postseason berth.
There is no question Peterson had the best season of any running back in the NFL in 2012, but he may have had the best season of any running back in NFL history. He became the seventh player to top 2,000 rushing yards in a season. While he was nine yards short of Dickerson's rushing record, Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per carry compared to Dickerson's 5.6.
He did all of it without much help from the passing game. The Vikings finished 31st in the NFL in passing yards, averaging just 171.9 passing yards per game. Peterson alone wasn't too far behind that, averaging 131.1 rushing yards per game. Behind Peterson, the Vikings finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing, but were the only team out of the top four to not have a quarterback who ran for more than 300 yards.
In all, Peterson accounted for 43 percent of the offensive yards Minnesota gained in 2012 and 38 percent of the offensive touchdowns the Vikings scored. Peterson was voted as a starter in the Pro Bowl and was a unanimous selection to the Associated Press All-Pro team. He joined Texans defensive end J.J. Watt as the only two unanimous selections.
By winning the MVP, Peterson became just the fourth running back to win the award since 2000. He is the first non-quarterback to take home MVP honors since LaDainian Tomlinson did so in 2006. Peterson was the first running back since Barry Sanders in 1997 to win the MVP despite scoring less than 18 touchdowns.