OAKLAND, Calif. -- There have been three seasons in Adrian Peterson's illustrious NFL career where the Minnesota Vikings asked him to account for more than one-third of their offensive yards. The first was in 2008: Peterson had 35.6 percent of the Vikings' yards from scrimmage, he won a NFL rushing title and the Vikings went to the playoffs with Gus Frerotte at quarterback and a stout defense.
The second was in 2012: Peterson had a whopping 43 percent of the Vikings' yards, he won a rushing title (as well as league MVP honors) and the Vikings went to the playoffs with Christian Ponder and a serviceable defense.
The Vikings came into this season not expecting to lean this hard on Peterson again. They'd put him in a backfield with emerging second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, added Mike Wallace and rookie Stefon Diggs to an athletic group of young receivers and got Kyle Rudolph back from injury. And yet here the Vikings are again, asking Peterson to account for 37.1 percent of their yards from scrimmage, including 216 against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
That formula, plus the league's second-best scoring defense, has the Vikings at 7-2, a game ahead of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North and in the hunt for a first-round bye. While there's still time for Bridgewater and his receivers to provide some balance for the offense, it's possible this is how the Vikings will have to win games the rest of this season. There is no reason for the Vikings to apologize for that, not when Peterson continues to show he can handle the load.
"That's something I take personal," Peterson said. "I guess there's something they see in the way I approach the game, things I have to say when I come off the field. It feels good. I have a job to do. When my number's called, I've been able to take advantage."
Peterson ran for 137 of his 203 yards in the fourth quarter on Sunday, as the Vikings held the ball for 10:01 and scored 10 points to put the game out of reach. By the time the Vikings got the ball back, up nine, with 2:03 left after Terence Newman's second interception, they were just looking for Peterson to run the clock out. Peterson, instead, ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run, breaking one tackle and streaking to a game-sealing score. It gave him six 200-yard games in his career, matching O.J. Simpson for the most in NFL history, and helped Peterson pass Randy Moss for the most plays of 50 yards or more in Vikings history.
And it provided a demoralizing final blow to a Raiders defense that was ranked fourth in the league against the run.
"It's tough," linebacker Chad Greenway said of games where defenses can't stop the run in the end. "You've understood you've lost in more ways than the scoreboard. For us to get those first downs in those critical situations at the ends of games is just so big."
How far the Vikings can go with the formula remains to be seen, though few of the NFC's playoff hopefuls possess the kinds of electric passing games that have dominated the league in recent years. At some point, they'll likely need more balance on offense, especially if an impressive defense-and-special-teams combination ever has a day where it can't control the field position battle as thoroughly as it has this year.
The Vikings might not need to do anything different, though, to get to the postseason for the first time since 2012. They've settled into a power run game, with a three-tight end set that blasted craters into the Raiders' front in the fourth quarter and a second-year fullback in Zach Line who's developing quickly as a lead blocker after carrying the ball 778 times at SMU.
This, it seems, is who the 2015 Vikings are. With Peterson doing what he's doing, they might be something else: Contenders.
"I don't think there's any mystery to what we're doing," Line said. "A lot of times, when we're lining up, you pretty much know it's going to be a power [run]. We'll pick up four yards, five yards. That's what we want. If he breaks a big one? Beautiful."