SEATTLE – There was a moment Sunday when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson made the game look like a cartoon.
Midway through the first quarter, after Peterson had already broken a 74-yard run and scored a touchdown, he took the ball to the left, only to find a wall of humanity in front of him and nowhere to really go. Somehow, Peterson escaped the jungle of arms and bodies and moved laterally back to the right until he found daylight. He began to motor upfield before cutting hard to the right and then just as hard back to the left.
Peterson eventually gained 16 yards before being nudged enough by a Seattle defender that he stepped just out of bounds. Peterson was ready to make yet another cut on the one remaining defender between him and an even longer run when the whistle blew.
For a moment, Peterson just stood there, frustrated by his inability to stay in bounds. Everybody else, including the packed house in CenturyLink Field, stood there hushed by what they had just seen. It was a combination of power, agility and speed that defy human physics.
Particularly medically repaired human physics.
"If that's how he runs after having knee surgery, I don't want to know what he was like before that," said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, after watching Peterson run for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
"That didn't look like some guy who was still recovering from anything," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said.
True that. Peterson isn't so much coming back as he is advancing. If it's somehow possible to tear your anterior cruciate ligament and come back even better 10 months later, Peterson has done it.
In August and even early September, there were concerns about whether Peterson was fully ready to return after suffering such a devastating knee injury last Christmas Eve. Now, people are wondering if he's on his way to a career-best season. If not for the incredible comeback of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, the New England Journal of Medicine staff might be parked at Vikings headquarters trying to figure out just what is going on.
Through nine games, Peterson has 957 yards, six rushing touchdowns and 26 receptions for 150 yards. He is on pace for 1,700 yards, which is only 60 yards short of his career high, and 11 TDs. He is also on pace for a career high in catches (47).
To mere mortals and even some fellow players, that's ridiculous.
"You see on film defensive players diving at his knees – not to hurt, but just to try and get him down – and he's not flinching," Sherman said. "He's not scared of putting his foot in the ground and making a really hard cut to make you miss. He truly runs like he's not thinking about his knee at all."
"I know it was two years for me before I felt comfortable as an athlete again after my knee surgery," said Seattle defensive tackle Red Bryant, who tore his ACL in college. "You see the way he moves and it's like, 'There's no way he had surgery in December.'"
But Peterson did and his relentless work habits have paid dividends. He isn't happy just being back, he's playing with a high level of expectation, such as on the aforementioned 16-yard run.
"Man, I was just looking at it going, 'Why did I step out of bounds?' " Peterson said, ignoring the fact that other athletes were out there trying to get him down. "I just looked at it like, 'Oh, one more step. One more step and I had him.' "
Then again, most people would be satisfied with trying to take these steps. It's a testimony to Peterson's drive.
"It would surprise me if it wasn't Adrian Peterson. But if you know his work ethic and his desire to be great, nothing like that surprises you," Vikings offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said.
Adrian Peterson highlights from Week 9:
Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
• Mike Shanahan underestimated Redskins rebuild
• Doctored ad gives Drew Brees a second birthmark
• Plaxico Burress beats 125 mph speeding ticket
• Y! Shine: How Victoria's Secret helped out after Superstorm Sandy