Does Justin Jefferson Need To Go 2012 Adrian Peterson Out Of the Bye?

Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the history of the Minnesota Vikings, few performances are as dominant as Adrian Peterson was in the final month of the 2012 season.

The Vikings legend took over in December 2012, leading Minnesota to four-straight wins and claiming a playoff spot. The performance helped Peterson become the last running back to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award. It also helped elevate a Vikings team on the playoff bubble.

Eleven years later, the Vikings find themselves in a similar situation.

They come out of their bye week at 6-6 and open their final stretch with a trip to Vegas. Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders will be the beginning of a final month where they’ll play the division-leading Detroit Lions twice, a resurgent Green Bay Packers team, and a potential revenge game from Jake Browning. (Don’t laugh. Ask the Jacksonville Jaguars about this.)

The Vikings need a spark after losing their last two games, and they could get it with Justin Jefferson‘s return. But the stakes may be higher than that. As their superstar receiver returns from a hamstring injury, it’s fair to wonder if Jefferson needs to channel what Peterson did 11 years ago for the Vikings to have a shot at the playoffs.

Let’s hop into the DeLorean and go back to 2012. The Vikings dropped their first two games after their Week 11 bye to fall to 6-6. An offense that Percy Harvin carried in the first half of the season was starting to fall apart. Defenses were beginning to expose Christian Ponder.

Minnesota’s passing offense ranked 31st with 171.9 yards per game. They managed only 43 passing yards in a Week 7 win over the Arizona Cardinals and 44 passing yards in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It got so bad that Harvin reportedly clashed with head coach Leslie Frazier, who might be the most mild-mannered man on the planet.

That team had some names like Peterson, Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph that brought smiles to the faces of the most hardened Vikings fans. But it also had an awful supporting cast, including Ponder, Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson, and Devin Aromashodu.

Peterson didn’t get much help in the backfield, either. With second-round bust Toby Gerhart and Matt Asiata riding shotgun, the Vikings didn’t need a spark. They needed a full-blown supernova to carry them to the finish line.

But Peterson put the Vikings on his back. He ran for 651 yards and four touchdowns over the final four games to lead Minnesota to the playoffs. While the defense was good enough to average 14th in points allowed, Peterson didn’t get help from Ponder until he threw three touchdown passes in a Week 17 win over the Packers to get into the playoffs.

Unless you’re a big Joe Webb fan, we won’t discuss what happened after the Vikings got into the playoffs. Still, Peterson took what could have been a disappointing season and made it something special. If fans drink enough purple Kool-Aid, they can see a path for Jefferson to do the same.

The Vikings sit at .500 entering Sunday’s game and are in the thick of a playoff race. The 2023 Vikings have the benefit of a third Wild Card team. Still, they can’t afford to coast into the playoffs with the Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks battling for the final two playoff spots.

The good news is that Jefferson’s track record suggests he can perform on the same level as Peterson did in 2012. In five games before his injury, Jefferson caught 36 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns. If we take out the game where he suffered his injury, Jefferson had 33 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns in four games this season.

But while needed, Jefferson’s presence wasn’t a necessity for the Vikings’ passing attack to survive.

The Vikings enter Sunday’s game sixth in the NFL in passing offense with 258.6 yards per game. Some of that is due to Kirk Cousins, who tore his Achilles in Week 8. But there’s also a strong supporting cast, including T.J. Hockenson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, and Brandon Powell.

If there is a weakness to the Vikings’ offense, it’s the rushing attack, but even that has improved. Although Minnesota ranks 28th with 92.1 rushing yards per game, and its 23 fumbles are the second-most in the NFL, they’ve also averaged 129.7 rushing yards per game since Josh Dobbs took over as the starter – a number that would rank seventh throughout a full season.

With a defense that currently ranks seventh in points allowed, Jefferson’s presence may not be as impactful as Peterson’s was in 2012. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s not almost as important.

Consistency is the biggest thing that Jefferson can bring. Minnesota started the season by losing four of their last five games and bounced back to win five straight. The Vikings looked like two different teams while losing their final two games ahead of the bye. They built a 24-3 lead against the New Orleans Saints before winning 27-19 and held a second-half lead over the Denver Broncos before losing 21-20.

Even the Chicago Bears tilt had a mood swing in it. The Vikings went from a functional team in Denver to one that managed only 242 yards of total offense in a 12-10 loss.

Just like Peterson, Jefferson could be the “in case of emergency” tool that the Vikings should use the moment things go wrong:

  • Is the pass rush getting through? Throw it to Jefferson.
  • Is the running game not working? Throw it to Jefferson.
  • Is the defense hemorrhaging points? Throw it to Jefferson.
  • First-and-10? You get the idea.

That approach won’t lead the Vikings to a miracle Super Bowl run. However, it could give them a fighting chance as they enter their most important stretch of the season.

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