Talk about finishing strong. Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson averaged 172.2 yards per game in the month of December, the highest average (minimum two games) for a running back in any month in NFL history. He will be the choice of many for the NFL's MVP award, and perhaps his strongest argument is that he was the league's top individual performer during the Vikings' four-game run to the playoffs. The top argument for documenting the value Peterson added to the Vikings this season is noting that he gained 1,019 yards after contact. That's by far the most of any NFL player over the past four seasons. Finally, you could note that Peterson came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark despite finishing with 31 fewer carries than Dickerson over the course of 16 games. On the other hand, you could argue that quarterback Christian Ponder's performance more closely influenced the Vikings' won-loss record. The Vikings were 8-0 this season in games Ponder finished with a Total Quarterback Rating of more than 50. (Average play is considered 50 in QBR terms.)
Sunday might have been Ponder's most effective, confident and -- in some cases -- luckiest game as a professional. His on-target 65-yard seam pass to receiver Jarius Wright was the best throw we've seen him make in the NFL. Overall, he completed four of the five passes he threw that traveled at least 15 yards in the air. That might not sound impressive, but he entered the game completing an NFL-worst 31 percent of those types of throws. He completed 8 of 11 passes on third down, six of which converted a first down or touchdown, and he tied his career high with three touchdown passes. Ponder was fortunate not to have a tipped ball for Wright intercepted, and he was lucky that officials ruled the play a catch, but for the most part you saw a quarterback who appeared confident and comfortable in his role on a playoff team.
I'm convinced that if offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave carried a bigger play sheet on the sideline and had a more outgoing personality, he would be among the list of hot coaching candidates who have emerged on Black Monday. What Musgrave has done is what any team would hope from a coordinator: He fashioned a scheme that fit the personnel he was handed and then altered it when the personnel changed fundamentally. Musgrave opened the year with an approach that got the ball frequently to receiver Percy Harvin in low-risk, highly-efficient ways and allowed Harvin to maximize his open-field running ability. When Harvin suffered a season-ending ankle injury, Musgrave changed gears and elevated Peterson's carries (average of 28.5 over last four games). Musgrave insisted on a two-back set that Peterson didn't like but ultimately agreed was beneficial, and all along he appropriately minimized Ponder's responsibilities and menu. Coaches are tasked with putting players in position to make plays. Musgrave's offense put Peterson in position to rush for 2,097 yards, while Harvin caught 62 passes in nine games. At least some of the credit should go to the coach, right?
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Does anyone else find it odd that Harvin hasn't been around the team since he was placed on injured reserve? This can be a touchy subject for players who are ineligible to play because of injury or suspension, especially those who spend their offseasons in warm climates and would prefer to escape the winter. Not all coaches require injured players to remain at the team facility and/or attend games, and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier clearly does not. But amid a recent 1500ESPN.com report that Harvin and Frazier had a heated exchange earlier this month, you wonder if an unofficial cooling off period is underway.