Peterson finished the 2012 season with a staggering 2,097 rushing yards, and averaged 6.0 yards per carry, nearly setting the NFL's rushing record, while leading the Vikings to a Wild Card berth.
Peterson's season is even more remarkable when considering Peterson began the season just nine months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, as the star running back tore his ACL and MCL at the end of the 2011 season.
Though the injury occurred during Week 17 of the 2011-12 regular season, Peterson's injury had him listed as "questionable" heading into the team's first game of this season. He ran for 84 yards with a pair of touchdowns in that game, and Peterson was truly "back."
That game was actually a down game in the grand scheme of things. Peterson went on to have big game after big game, and headed into the final game of the regular season, Peterson needed just 208 yards to break the NFL single-season record for rushing yardage.
Eric Dickerson still holds that mark, at 2,105 yards, and Peterson came so very close to getting it, but fell just short. The game, against the Green Bay Packers, was tied at 34 in the fourth quarter when Peterson hit a 26-yard run to set up a field goal with three seconds left.
The team elected for the field goal to get the win and a spot in the playoffs, leaving Peterson nine yards short of breaking the record. Still, finishing with 2,097 rushing yards, the second-most ever for a running back in a single season, after that kind of major reconstructive surgery is nothing to shrug at.
But let's take a closer look at the numbers between Peterson and Dickerson. The record holder rushed the ball 379 times for an average of 5.6 yards per carry, with 14 touchdowns. He also added 139 receiving yards. Peterson rushed the ball 348 times for a per-carry average of 6.0, with 12 touchdowns. He also added 217 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Arguably, Peterson had the better season when you take the rushing attempts and yards per attempt into account. It's not definitive by any means, but lessening Peterson's accomplishments because he "fell short" of the record is definitely not something one should do.
Peterson was, at times, the only thing working for the Vikings offense. Wide receiver Percy Harvin went down for the season and Peterson didn't have much in the way of a backup behind him, either. Quarterback Christian Ponder was ineffective for long stretches of time and it often fell on Peterson to do the old cliche: carry the team on his back.
And that he did. When Peterson was shut down, the Vikings lost, as evidenced by his 60 yards in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts. In some games, Peterson would dominate, and the team would still lose -- evidence that the team was counting on him to do everything.
In losses to the Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Peterson had yardage totals of 210, 182 and 123. In those games, Ponder threw for 119, 63 and 251 yards, with four interceptions. The Vikings had the No. 2 rushing offense in the league, and the No. 31 passing offense.
Peterson's highlight game (there were plenty, but this was the best) was the Week 9 performance against the Seahawks. He rushed for 182 yards off of 17 carries, with two touchdowns and a per-carry average of 10.7. This is the Seattle defense that ranked among the top teams in the league, and was No. 10 overall in opposing rushing yardage allowed at the end of the season.
Over the last 10 seasons, five running backs have won the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award: Chris Johnson (2009), LaDanian Tomlinson (2006), Shaun Alexander (2005), Jamal Lewis (2003), and Priest Holmes (2002). Peterson is now the sixth running back since 2002 to win the award, joining elite company.
Of those seasons, Johnson and Tomlinson's seasons come the closest to matching Peterson's 2012. Tomlinson had just 1,815 yards in 2006, but he had an insane 28 rushing touchdowns to his credit. That number is just through the roof, which none of the other running backs were able to match. Johnson had 2,006 yards in 2009, which was definitely impressive.
Looking at the numbers, it comes as no surprise that Peterson, whose 2012 season is being ranked among the all-time seasons for running backs in NFL history, snagged this year's Offensive Player of the Year honors.