Now fully healthy, Adrian Peterson is a big reason the Minnesota Vikings are tied atop the NFC North.
The Tennessee Titans hope Chris Johnson's latest performance is the start of good things to come for them and their star running back.
Looking to continue their surprising start, Peterson and the Vikings can surpass their win total from last season with a third consecutive victory Sunday against the banged-up Titans at the Metrodome.
Minnesota's 3-13 season in 2011 was made worse when Peterson tore his ACL at Washington on Christmas Eve. Nine months later, he has recovered enough to regain his status as one of the NFL's top running backs, helping the Vikings (3-1) to a share of the division lead with Chicago.
"We want to embrace it,'' coach Les Frazier said. "It was one of our goals when the season began, to win the NFC North.''
Minnesota might have a good chance to achieve that goal if Peterson continues to run as well as he did last week. Though the Vikings rank 21st in total offense at 321.8 yards per game, they are 10th in rushing at 122.8.
Peterson, who's run for 332 yards and two touchdowns, carried 21 times for 102 yards in a 20-13 win at Detroit on Sunday - his first 100-yard game since Oct. 23.
"I felt real good,'' Peterson said. "I feel myself just continue to get stronger each week."
Though the Vikings don't have the NFL's most potent offense, they have a chance to succeed with Peterson and the running game producing.
"As long as we're winning, I'll keep handing it off to Adrian and Toby (Gerhart) back there and they're going to keep chugging along,'' said quarterback Christian Ponder, who has a 97.7 passer rating while throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions. "As an offense, we're going to keep doing what we're supposed to be doing to win games.''
Minnesota did not score an offensive touchdown last weekend but returned the opening kickoff and a punt for scores.
Peterson - who ran for 80 yards and two TDs in a 30-17 loss at Tennessee on Sept. 28, 2008 - and the Vikings' offense could be in for a big afternoon against a squad that ranks last in the NFL with 37.8 points allowed per contest.
The Titans (1-3) hope to see improvement on the defensive side, especially if starting linebacker Colin McCarthy is able to return after missing the last three games with an ankle injury.
As badly as Tennessee's defense has played, the team's biggest concern might be on the other side of the ball. The Titans have been held to 14 or fewer points in three games and head into this contest with quarterback issues.
Jake Locker separated his shoulder in a 38-14 loss at Houston on Sunday, leaving veteran Matt Hasselbeck to start despite throwing a pair of interceptions the Texans returned for touchdowns.
Locker won't dress Sunday.
The status of star receiver Kenny Britt, meanwhile, is uncertain as he looks to return after missing last week with an ankle injury.
Despite the lopsided defeat Sunday, the Titans might have reason to be optimistic after Johnson enjoyed his best performance of 2012.
Perhaps the biggest individual disappointment of the young season, Johnson totaled 45 yards on 33 carries through the first three games before running 25 times for 141 yards against the Texans.
"I think (last weekend) helped us take a step,'' said Johnson, who had averaged 34.2 yards in his previous seven games before breaking out. "I wouldn't say we ultimately solved the problem, but I feel like we took a good step, and hopefully we continue to get better.''
Johnson also believes he's not the only one responsible for the Titans' early struggles on the ground.
"Like I've been saying all year, I'm going to be as good as my offensive line," Johnson said. "They had a great game (versus Houston) and I feel like that's why the running game did well.''
Johnson rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts against the Vikings in 2008.
Minnesota won 20-3 in the teams' most recent meeting at the Metrodome on Oct. 24, 2004.
- Adrian Peterson
- Tennessee Titans
- Minnesota Vikings
- Chris Johnson