In an NFL season full of historic achievements, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had the most remarkable by a player -- perhaps ever -- by rushing for 2,097 yards within one year of undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Peterson topped the 2,000-yard milestone in the regular-season finale Sunday with animalistic intensity, with flourish and with meaning. With the score tied 34-34, his final carry was for 26 yards to put the ball on the Green Bay Packers' 11-yard line with three seconds left.
That set up rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who made the 29-yard field goal that gave the Vikings a 37-34 victory. The outcome means the teams will meet again next week in a wild-card playoff battle.
Peterson finished the game with 34 carries for 199 yards, but the 2,097 yard total for the season left him 8 yards shy of the record (2,105 yards) set in 1984 by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams. Peterson's total is second only to Dickerson's, and the Vikings back became the seventh player to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a season.
Peterson did not even seem to know he was short of the record when he was interviewed by FOX's Pam Oliver immediately after the game, on the field.
"Nine yards what? 9 yards what? From breaking?" Peterson said, repeating Oliver's question. "Ultimately we got the W, and that was my main focus coming into the game. If it happens, it happens, but don't focus on it."
It didn't happen, but it was difficult to tell after the Minnesota fans erupted into a deafening cheer and his teammates carried him on the sideline as Blair set up to make the deciding field goal.
Peterson injured his knee on Christmas Eve last year, and Sunday's game against Green Bay occurred on the anniversary of his surgery.
After the operation, there was this typical statement from coach Leslie Frazier:
"We've received word that Adrian underwent successful knee surgery with Dr. James Andrews and is now resting comfortably. Adrian is in our thoughts, we wish him a speedy recovery and we look forward to seeing him when he returns to Minnesota."
Of course, surgeries are always successful the day they are completed. Peterson vowed the day of the procedure he would be ready for training came and play the full 2012. And with each day since, he proved all doubters wrong.
Peterson's remarkable season put him at the front of conversations for such postseason honors as MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year. Many predetermined that final honor would go to Peyton Manning for leading the Denver Broncos into the playoffs after a year off and four neck surgeries.
Making Peterson's accomplishment even more impressive, the running back received little help from a Vikings passing game led by second-year quarterback Christian Ponder or from an offensive line that does not have a single Pro Bowl player. Also, unlike the gaudy passing and receiving statistics that have had plenty of help from rules changes, rushing the ball in the NFL is the same in 2012 as it ever was -- tough.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards last week, extended his total to 1,964 yards, coming up short of his goal of 2,000. Johnson caught five passes for 72 yards in a 26-24 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 272 yards and three touchdowns while targeting Johnson 14 times. He said he wasn't focused on Johnson's record.
"I was trying to win the game," he said. "If he got one-on-one coverage, I was trying to throw him the ball. If he didn't, other guys had to step up, and they did."
Johnson finished the season with 122 catches and five touchdowns.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and San Francisco outside linebacker Aldon Smith did not add to their sack totals Sunday, leaving Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5 untouched. Watt finished with 20.5 sacks this year, Smith 19.5.