While Adrian Peterson continues his pursuit of a long-standing NFL record, he's also helped run the Minnesota Vikings into position for a playoff spot.
The road to achieve both gets tougher for Peterson and the visiting Vikings when they try for a third straight victory Sunday against the Houston Texans, who need one win to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Less than a year after suffering a torn ACL and MCL, Peterson continues to amaze while leading the NFL with a career-best 1,812 rushing yards on 289 carries. He's the only player averaging more than 100 yards per game (129.4) and is third in the league at 6.3 per carry - more than teammate Christian Ponder is averaging per pass attempt (5.95).
Peterson, who ran for a season-high 212 yards on 24 carries in a 36-22 win at St. Louis last Sunday, has averaged 164.1 yards during a stretch of eight consecutive games with at least 100.
"Nobody probably has ever done it better than he's doing it in this stretch," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said.
That remarkable run has left Peterson needing 294 yards in two games to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105, set in 1984 with the Los Angeles Rams.
"It's something that I'm not focusing on, it's in the back of my mind, but I want to accomplish that," said Peterson, whose previous career high was 1,760 yards in 2008. "I want to let the chips fall where they may."
As much as Peterson would like the record, his first priority is helping Minnesota (8-6) reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. The Vikings currently hold the final wild-card spot in the NFC, although various tiebreaking scenarios make their grip on that position tenuous.
"The record would be great," coach Leslie Frazier said. "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."
Looking to match a season high with their third consecutive victory, the Vikings face a stiff test this weekend. In addition to owning the AFC's best record, Houston (12-2) has the fifth-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing 93.2 yards per game and a league-low three rushing touchdowns.
The Texans clinched their second straight AFC South title with last Sunday's 29-17 win over Indianapolis, and they can secure the conference's top seed with one more win or one more loss by both New England and Denver.
"It'd be huge for this team because playing at home in this league and having the benefit of your crowd and getting off on cadence and all those types of things, it's a big, big factor in success in this league," Kubiak said. "We worked hard to get to the playoffs. We worked hard to win a division and now we got to continue that same effort to try to find a way to possibly be a one seed in this playoff hunt."
Arian Foster increased his total to 1,313 rushing yards by posting a season-high 165 against the Colts while Andre Johnson caught 11 passes for 151 yards and a TD. Johnson, who has 93 receptions for an AFC-leading 1,360 yards, caught 12 balls for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-28 overtime loss in 2004 the only previous time Houston hosted Minnesota.
Though the Texans rank among the NFL leaders in averaging 28.1 points and 386.8 total yards, Kubiak is a bit concerned after his offense scored a touchdown in the first quarter last weekend then settled for four field goals the rest of the way.
"It was disappointing because we could have really put some points on the board," Kubiak said. "You only get so many opportunities in this business and boy, you have to take advantage of them."
Peterson is getting his first opportunity to play an NFL game in Houston, 150 miles from his hometown of Palestine, Texas. He ran for 139 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in Minnesota's 28-21 home victory over the Texans on Nov. 2, 2008.
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