Around the Horns: Jerick McKinnon gets 100 hard way

Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Minnesota Vikings beat:

Before their game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings were operating under the belief that any yards they gained on the ground against the league's top rushing defense would have to be earned the hard way. So coach Mike Zimmer went to his running backs Saturday night with a benchmark he wanted them to hit.

"I asked the backs last night to get three yards after contact," Zimmer said Sunday. "I thought we did a lot of good things there."

That's an awfully high standard to hit -- the best running back in the league after contact this season (the New York Jets' Chris Ivory) is averaging 2.68 yards after contact per carry -- but rookie running back Jerick McKinnon met it, on the nose. According to ESPN Stats & Information, McKinnon gained 57 yards after contact on 19 carries Sunday, or exactly three yards per carry, and wound up with 103 total yards on a day that required him to bounce off tackles for much of the game.

The 5-foot-9 McKinnon joined Ivory as the only backs in the league to gain more yards after contact than before it Sunday. McKinnon now has 143 of his 309 yards this season after contact, and his 2.38 yards-per-carry average is the third-highest rate after contact in the NFL this year. It's still nowhere near what Adrian Peterson did in his otherworldly 2012 season -- when he averaged 3.26 yards after contact -- but McKinnon's proving he can get the hard yards, in addition to running in space.

For the second week in a row, he's been the team's primary running back, though Zimmer still wouldn't anoint him the starter. His performance is enough to make one wonder, though, how much more comfortable the Vikings would be with the idea of not bringing Peterson back. He might not play again this season, with his child abuse trial slated for Dec. 1, and if McKinnon proves he can handle the workload -- or at least as much of it as he's asked to handle in Norv Turner's offense -- the Vikings might feel more comfortable about their future.

"It's something that's not my decision. Not in my control," McKinnon said of being the starter. "All I can do is, when my number's called, do what I can, whether it's running the ball or pass protection. I don't allow stuff like that to be a distraction."

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:

Best of the rest: