Brad Childress has a good problem on his hands.
Ever since Adrian Peterson's impressive debut in a season-opening win against the Atlanta Falcons, the Minnesota Vikings coach has been expected to make Peterson his workhorse back … even when starting tailback Chester Taylor returned to the lineup in Week 4. And when Peterson's touches have been limited in the second half of games, Childress catches grief.
Maybe now, though, outsiders will have a better appreciation for the patience and balance Childress must display in making sure his prized rookie doesn't crash and burn before season's end.
"All day" Peterson ran all over the Chicago Bears for 224 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. But it's the juggling act of having Peterson return kicks that made the difference during the 34-31 victory, as Peterson's 53-yard return with 1:30 left set-up Ryan Longwell's 55-yard game-winning field goal.
It's tempting to give Peterson 25-30 carries a game. At this point, he looks like a modern-day Barry Sanders: He'll get stopped for a few negative losses during the game, but he's a big-time home-run hitter, as evidenced by his electrifying scoring runs of 67 and 73 yards.
However, Childress has to be mindful of Peterson's injury history in college. Even more, Childress can't ignore the fact that at times, the rookie appears to be the only real weapon on offense. He'll quickly become a non-threat if he's forced to take on too much, too fast.
In an action-packed Week 6, here are some winners, losers and other observations:
• Will someone please tell the New England Patriots that it's not supposed to be this easy? You're not supposed to whip NFL competition week in and week out by 20-plus points, especially when a couple of supposed Super Bowl contenders are lining up on the other side of the ball. At this juncture of the season, Tom Brady might as well have his last name changed to "Terrific" and the Associated Press should just start carving his name into the 2007 MVP trophy.
Brady, who looks like he's in the middle of a video game with all the protection he gets, is the first quarterback to open a season with at least three touchdown passes in six straight games. Yeah, yeah, there are an another 11 weeks to be played in the season, but barring injury to Brady or Randy Moss, is any team other than the Indianapolis Colts capable of slowing down this juggernaut?
• Perhaps the biggest question in San Diego: Where the heck was LaDainian Tomlinson's cape hidden? The '06 MVP certainly was on top of his game Sunday, rushing for 198 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the 28-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders. And speaking of regaining form, Shawne Merriman looked like the guy folks projected would register 20-plus sacks this season. He recorded 2½ against the former divisional rivals (explanation below).
• In a game featuring quarterbacks nowhere to be found a week ago, Vinny Testaverde, 43, engineered the Carolina Panthers to a 25-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. And Testaverde did more than just hand off the ball, completing 20 of 33 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown. But it helps when you have Steve Smith (10-136, 1 TD) as a receiving target.
• The Houston Texans caught a beat-down, but they found yet another offensive playmaker in Andre Johnson's absence. Kevin Walter had 12 catches for 160 yards in a 37-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Walter joins Andre Davis as the second Texans receiver with 100-plus receiving yards in the past three games. Tight end Owen Daniels had 96 in Week 5.
• Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, suspended the first two games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, continues to make a big impact since his return. Allen registered 2½ sacks during the 27-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and now has six in four games.
• Second-year linebacker Thomas Howard has established himself as a playmaker for the Raiders, recording his fourth pick and second touchdown of the season in the loss to the Chargers.
• Kerry Collins for Vince Young is a bad situation for the Tennessee Titans. Collins did lead the Titans on a late game-tying drive during a 13-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but you better believe Tennessee is praying that Young makes a quick recovery from a right quadriceps strain.
• Have the bumbling Bengals returned to Cincinnati? How after a week off could the Bengals lay an egg with the way the Kansas City Chiefs have looked?
• Great call, Eric Mangini! With the Eagles up by seven points, facing a 3rd-and-7 from their own 7-yard line with 2:08 left, the Jets opted not to rush the passer. Donovan McNabb stumbled following the snap, but facing no pressure, composed himself and found Reggie Brown for a 13-yard gain. First down … and end of game.
• Half the teams have lost quarterbacks and the Buccaneers have been depleted at running back. But the Washington Redskins literally were left without any reserve offensive linemen at the end of Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
• Brett Favre now has the infamous interception mark to match his touchdown record from two weeks ago. Favre's interception – the 278th in his career – to Sean Taylor in the third quarter moved him ahead of George Blanda for first all-time.
• The Raiders probably should get an asterisk in regard to representing the AFC West given that they can't beat anyone in the division. The Raiders have lost 16 straight to AFC West foes, the longest such drought in any division since 1970.
• Tim Rattay, signed by the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday, was forced into action when Kurt Warner left the game with a left elbow sprain. Rattay was clearly a downgrade, throwing three interceptions during the loss.
• We've seen some inept, injury-riddled offenses before, but the St. Louis Rams look exceptionally bad right now. After getting the ball at the Baltimore Ravens' 11-yard line following a turnover, St. Louis' ensuing possession went like this: 2-yard rushing gain, 3-yard rushing loss, 5-yard penalty, incomplete pass and 35-yard missed field goal. Gus Frerotte, making his second start for an injured Marc Bulger, threw five interceptions. And after losing two more players (Brett Romberg and Leonard Little) to injuries, the Rams decided to kneel down with 22 seconds left instead of risking any more mishaps.
They're back: After a two-week hiatus, another throwaway jersey was introduced to the public. This time, it was the New York Jets turning a bad idea into a reality. But honestly, the Jets uniform itself wasn't so terrible; rather, the decision to roll out something that so closely resembles the San Diego Chargers' blue top is the problem.
Mr. Excitement: Devin Hester easily is on the short list of most explosive players in the NFL. Even when Minnesota tried to keep the ball away from him Sunday by kicking it near the sideline, Hester still made enough incredible moves – breaking a few tackles in the process – for an 89-yard touchdown return in the second quarter. Even more impressive, in a situation where a safety has no business letting a receiver get by him, Hester just blew past Dwight Smith for a game-tying 81-yard touchdown with 1:38 left. Too bad for the Bears, Hester was upstaged on this day by Peterson.
Flash without substance: Carson Palmer again was on the wrong end of putting up gaudy numbers in a losing effort. The Bengals are 0-3 when Palmer has thrown for more than 300 yards this season. In fact, one of the other two 300-yard passers through Sunday afternoon was Brian Griese, who also went home with an L.
Consolation prize: Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez moved ahead of Shannon Sharpe to become the leading scorer among tight ends with his 3-yard touchdown reception against the Bengals in the first quarter. He added a second score later for a career total of 64. At least one California Golden Bear is No. 1 after the weekend.