MINNEAPOLIS -- Sorry. I'm a sucker for symbolism. Sometimes these things just pop into my noggin. So as I descended into the Metrodome basement after Minnesota's 27-10 victory over Detroit , all I could think about was the Phillip Buchanon play.
Surely you've seen it by now. Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson broke into the clear at the Lions' 47-yard line during the second quarter. Pretty much every time that's happened in Peterson's career, the result has been a touchdown. But Buchanon, the Lions' cornerback who once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds, gave chase for 25 yards before catching up.
The NFL rushing champion was stunned as Buchanon tackled him with his left hand and punched the ball loose with his right. The Lions recovered for a touchback.
“I was caught off guard,” said Peterson, adding that he was “sick” about the play and jokingly saying he wanted to “punch” Buchanon. “Overall,” Peterson said, “I feel like we've got a lot to learn from this game.”
Indeed, the Vikings overmatched the Lions in every way Sunday and ultimately overwhelmed them. They are 8-1 and have a three-game lead in the NFC North. This season is rapidly shaping up as a once-in-a-generation combination of opportunity and chance, putting the Vikings on a pretty short list of candidates to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
But lest anyone get too convinced of that destiny, remember this: If Adrian Peterson can get caught from behind, anything can happen.
“He just made a great play,” Peterson said. “Those guys on the other side of the ball, sometimes those guys are fast, too.”
But the second lesson/reminder of Sunday was that Minnesota has the offensive firepower to overcome even a series of similar occurrences. (It helped to be matched against the Lions' horrid pass defense, which has allowed quarterbacks to complete 71 percent of their passes on the way to a 107.8 rating.)
Minnesota gashed the Lions for 492 total yards, an average of 7.8 yards per play. Five of them went for 40 or more yards. Quarterback Brett Favre passed for 344 yards, receiver Sidney Rice totaled 201 receiving yards and Peterson finished with 133 rushing yards.
I understand the Vikings won't be playing the Lions' defense every week, and certainly not in any postseason game. But as they continue to compile elite offensive numbers, the confidence of the players surrounding Favre will only improve. Let's take a closer look at what we saw Sunday:
Rice should no longer surprise any opponent. Entering this year, many of us considered Rice a possession/red zone receiver. Although he does not have elite speed, it should now be clear he has the ball skills to catch passes at any point on the field. On Sunday, his seven receptions included catches of 56, 43, 43, and 21 yards.
Rice outmaneuvered Buchanon (or gently shoved, depending on your team allegiance) for a 43-yard reception in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Lions safety Ko Simpson stood flat-footed in the middle of the field as Rice blew past him. “He told me afterwards that he thought I was going to break off my route,” Rice said.
A possession receiver might do that, but we really shouldn't consider Rice that way anymore. In nine games this season, he is averaging 17.9 yards on 44 catches. He said Sunday that his favorite NFL receiver is Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, who has maximized his receiving skills to offset speed that falls short of elite.
“As far as deep threats go,” said Favre, “Sidney ranks right up there with the best.”
To my good fortune, at least for this post, Rice's day ended with a bit more symbolism. With the game in hand at the 5:37 mark of the fourth quarter, the Vikings realized Rice was 9 yards away from Sammy White's team record of 210 receiving yards. Coach Brad Childress agreed on a short passing play that would give Rice the record, but Rice dropped the pass from backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
“My bad,” Rice said.
Yes, there is always room for improvement.
Not to be outdone, rookie receiver Percy Harvin turned a short slant pass into a 40-yard play in the fourth quarter. Against a four-man defensive line, Favre opted against audibling to a running play based on his faith that Harvin could make an open-field play.
Harvin bounced off a strong hit from Lions rookie linebacker DeAndre Levy, kept his balance and beat the rest of the Lions' defense to the sideline.
“They actually played the pass on that play,” Favre said. “By rule you would have thought, ‘Hey, let's go to the run.' It helps when you have players that make plays. I said, ‘Hey, give Percy a chance.'”
Buchanon's play against Peterson overshadowed a tremendous run from Peterson, who clearly had live legs coming out of the Vikings' bye.
On the play, Peterson ran through four would-be tacklers, two at the line of scrimmage and two more at the Vikings' 47-yard line. (Levy actually had two chances at him.) Nine times out of 10, it would have been a spectacular 61-yard touchdown, replayed endlessly on highlight shows for the next 24 hours.
“That was one of the better runs, I don't want to say that I've ever seen, but in recent memory,” Favre said. “It seemed like the best I've ever seen at the time. ... Adrian, he'll be killing himself all night over that. But the guy is amazing, the way he can stop and go.”
Speaking as if he knew what I would be writing about Sunday, Peterson offered a final bit of perspective.
“In the NFL,” he said, “you definitely know it's going to be up and down. You can't be caught up and still looking behind you. You have to play the next play.”
That's what Minnesota did Sunday. After a little reminder.