The record many thought would never be broken is right there in front of him, and Adrian Peterson can smell it.
His powerful legs have been chewing up the yards at a staggering pace over these last two months, chasing down Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark with the relentlessness that helped him come back from a devastating knee injury in less than nine months.
As Peterson continues that pursuit, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is comfortable in knowing that while the record is important to his star running back, making the playoffs trumps everything. Actually, the two may go hand in hand.
Most yards per season
Adrian Peterson is currently No. 18 on the most yards gained per season, at 1,812 yards. Here are the men who've gone over 2,000 in a season.
- Eric Dickerson, 2105 yards, 1984
- Jamal Lewis, 2066 yards, 2003
- Barry Sanders, 2053 yards, 1997
- Terrell Davis, 2008 yards, 1998
- Chris Johnson, 2006 yards, 2009
- O.J. Simpson, 2003 yards, 1973
Heading into the final two games of the season, Peterson is 294 yards away from eclipsing Dickerson's record 2,105 yards set in 1984 and the Vikings (8-6) almost surely need wins over Houston and Green Bay to get into the playoffs.
With all that in mind, Frazier had a chat with Peterson on Monday just to make sure that the focus remains where it needs to be.
"The record would be great," Frazier said the day after the Vikings won in St. Louis to stay alive in the playoff race. "But the most important thing is to get a win in Houston. And the fact that he feels that way, that will permeate through the rest of our team. He wants to really concentrate on winning this game, more so than the record."
Peterson was unavailable for comment on Monday after racking up 212 yards and a touchdown in the 36-24 victory over the Rams, but he said after the game that he knows how to prioritize the two pursuits.
Most yards per game, per season
The likes of Jim Brown, Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson had huge campaigns in 14-game seasons.
- O.J. Simpson, 143.1 yards per game, 1973
- Jim Brown, 133.1, 1963
- Walter Payton 132.3, 1977
- Eric Dickerson, 131.6, 1984
- O.J. Simpson, 129.8, 1975
- Adrian Peterson, 129.4, 2012
"It's something that I'm not focusing on, it's in the back of my mind, but I want to accomplish that," Peterson said of the record. "I want to let the chips fall where they may. I look at today's game, I could have had 300 [yards], but it wasn't meant to happen. We got the 'W,' we got closer. Let's move on."
To say that Peterson is "only" 294 yards away from Dickerson's record with two games to go is remarkable in its own right. The game has evolved from Dickerson's day to a quarterback-centric universe, one where running backs are lucky to get a dozen carries in a game just to keep the defence off balance.
Perhaps that's why Dickerson felt relatively comfortable that his mark would stand. In five of Dickerson's first six seasons, he had at least 379 carries for the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts. Peterson's career high for carries is 363 in 2008, and he enters the game against the Texans with just 289 on the season.
"He's a phenomenal player and seems like a good dude," Dickerson told CBSsports.com last week. "If a player was to break it, I'd probably want it to be Adrian, but I like having the record. I don't think it's going to be broken."
The Vikings are a throwback to the days when running backs ruled. They rely on Peterson as their first, second and third option to move the ball down the field, and he has delivered even with opposing defences crowding the line of scrimmage in an all-out effort to stop him.
He's topped 200 yards twice in the last three weeks, is averaging more than 164 yards per game over the last eight and is averaging more yards per carry (6.3) than Christian Ponder is per pass attempt (5.95).
"Nobody probably has ever done it better than he's doing it in this stretch," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.
Even when an opposing defence appears to have him bottled up, Peterson has found a way to break out. He had minus-3 yards on his first five carries against the Rams, but ripped off an 82-yard touchdown run and a 52-yard burst in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice.
Through it all, he's turned what had been a career-derailing injury for a running back — a torn ACL in his left knee suffered last December — into nothing more than a speed bump.
"It's mental. My mindset, my willpower, my determination," Peterson said. "And that's something people don't see, is how hard I work during the off-season. I grind hard. When you want to be great — and in my mind, I want to be the greatest that ever played — you can't talk about it, you have to go out and work."
He's carried this offence on his broad shoulders all season long, and his teammates are hoping to return the favour by helping him get the record.
"We obviously want him to get it, and he's chugging along," Ponder said. "He's getting yards and I don't think it's something we're thinking about and trying to take advantage of. We do want to make the playoffs and that's our No. 1 goal [and to] keep winning. The way he's playing, we hope he gets it. He's getting close."