|Adrian Peterson has NFC rushing title, playoffs in his grasp|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 December 2007 15:05|
The Minnesota Vikings (8-7) can clinch a playoff berth with a win at Denver and some help from Dallas on Sunday, when Peterson tries to become the first rookie to lead the NFC in rushing since Barry Sanders in 1989.
Peterson isn't expecting anything to come easy at frigid Invesco Field even though the Broncos rank 30th in the NFL against the run.
``They are going to give us their best shot,'' Peterson said. ``We know they will try to finish strong.''
All the Broncos (6-9) have to play for is pride, although a loss would prove more meaningful come April, when Denver would own a top-10 draft pick for the first time since 1991.
In that case, the Broncos might get lucky and land an impact playmaker such as Peterson, who was selected seventh by the Vikings out of Oklahoma and has restored respectability to the franchise.
Minnesota's leads the league in rushing behind Peterson (1,305 yards, 14 more than Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, and 12 touchdowns) and Chester Taylor (761 yards and seven scores).
When the Broncos put in a Vikings run reel this week, safety John Lynch turned to his coach and wondered, ``Are you sure this is not a highlight tape?'''
Since shredding San Diego's defense for an NFL-record 296 yards on Nov. 4, however, Peterson has seen teams crowd the line of scrimmage with eight or nine players and he's averaged just 36 yards over the last three games.
``Is it frustrating? A little bit at times,'' Peterson allowed. ``You know what it's going to be. I can't remember the last time I saw a seven-man front. Emmitt Smith told me to learn how to run against eight- and nine-man fronts. That's something that I'm really going to focus on.''
The Broncos went with the eight-man front to slow a leaky defense, bringing Lynch closer to the line after getting gashed by so many running backs barreling through a revolving door of linemen and a middling group of linebackers.
``You know we really, really struggled against the run early in the year trying to play a lot of seven-man fronts and ever since about our bye week we have been doing a lot more eight-man fronts, so it has pretty much been standard the last five, six, seven games,'' Lynch said.
Denver has been dogged all year by injuries, ineffectiveness and inconsistency, ruining a season dedicated to fallen teammates Darrent Williams, killed almost a year ago in an unsolved drive-by slaying, and Damien Nash, who collapsed and died after a charity basketball game in St. Louis.
Making the downfall even more painful are the high hopes they began with following an offseason roster retooling that had the Broncos fancying themselves Super Bowl contenders.
Instead, the Broncos are slogging through their first losing season since 1999, when John Elway retired after consecutive championships and Terrell Davis suffered a devastating knee injury.
Coach Mike Shanahan called this his hardest season ever, worse than '99, when the Broncos slid to 6-10 in Shanahan's only other losing season during his 13-year tenure.
``It's been a rough year for us, a long year, and we're definitely looking forward to next year already,'' receiver Brandon Marshall said. ``We're ready for it to be over, that means next year will come quicker.''
The Broncos, though, cringe at the notion they're playing the spoiler role.
``I don't approach it that way,'' said Marshall, eight catches shy of 100. ``When you think about getting the chance to mess up the playoffs for someone else, it means you are a loser. I'm not a loser. ... We want to end the year on a good note. I want to win every game. I want to win this one. I want to have some momentum to take into next season.''
Lynch, who will ponder retirement in the offseason, said it's easy to ``discount a game like this as a throwaway game. But you never know when that journey is going to start and any game can be that turnaround game.''
Although the Broncos might get long looks at some young players, Lynch suggested the effort will be top-notch.
``We are professionals. We get an opportunity to play in an NFL football game. I think any time you have that opportunity you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your organization, you owe it to the people paying money to watch you play to go play as hard as you can,'' he said.
The Vikings can only hope the Cowboys feel the same way.
With the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage locked up, coach Wade Phillips could rest many of his key players against the surging Washington Redskins (8-7), who would clinch the final wild-card berth by beating Dallas.
``I don't think about it,'' Vikings linebacker Ben Leber said. ``I know that for us, we have to take care of winning the game. Without winning the game, it doesn't matter what the Redskins and Cowboys do.''