While most of the headlines heading into Week 9 of the NFL season rightly center on the most hyped regular season game in years when the undefeated Patriots face the undefeated Colts Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, the opening act is likely going to have its own piece of history, as the Vikings and Chargers square off in the first head-to-head battle between reigning NFL Most Valuable Player LaDainian Tomlinson
and runaway Rookie of the Year leader Adrian Peterson
As matchups go, this one has plenty of promise. Peterson is leading the league in rushing with 740 yards and, after a slow start, Tomlinson has worked his way up to fourth in the league in rushing. The hype machine surrounding this game won't be in warp mode like it will be with the Colts and Patriots, but the matchup is intriguing enough to get CBS-TV to send the second announcing crew of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf to cover the game. In what could well be L.T.'s only career trip to the Metrodome, it's becoming the talk of the players as well as the media.
"It should be a great battle," said center Matt Birk
, who hopes to open holes for the Peterson portion of the matchup equation. "Both teams have great running backs with breakaway speed and the ability to dominate games. Tomlinson was almost unstoppable last year, and I think we got a taste of what Adrian can do against Chicago. He took over that game with big plays, and both of them are capable of taking a carry all the way at any time."
Few, if any, running backs have had a streak like Tomlinson did in 2006. In an nine-week stretch from the seventh game of the season until the Chargers wrapped up home field for the playoffs in the 15th game, Tomlinson 186 times for 1,095 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. He went from being viewed as one of the best running backs in the league to the very best.
Peterson is receiving similar hype this season, as some people have speculated that he may already be on par with L.T. But don't say that to veteran fullback Tony Richardson
. He's a teammate who has seen up close and personal the special skills that A.P. brings to the table. But to compare Peterson to Tomlinson? Forget about it.
"You can't do it," Richardson said. "I mean, how can you compare the MVP of the league to a rookie? C'mon, man. You can't do it."
Tomlinson is in the prime of his career and his use as a workhorse since being the fifth pick in the 2001 draft has made him one of the most feared runners in the history of the league. Midway through just his seventh season, L.T. is only 207 yards shy of the 10,000 career yards mark. It would make him the fastest to reach that milestone – Edgerrin James
did it late in his eighth season in the league. From where he already stands, if Tomlinson gains just 3,000 yards over the remainder of his career, he will finish fifth on the all-time rushing list.
If that isn't enough to scare a defense, nothing is.
"One of the biggest problems you face against him is that he can do so many things," linebacker Chad Greenway
said. "He can run the ball up the middle and get tough yards. He can bounce outside and out-run everybody to the end zone. He can line up as a wide receiver and he can catch passes coming out of the backfield. He can do so many things that can kill your defense that you have to stay on him at all times. He has big games against just about everybody, so he's going to be one of the biggest challenges we face all year."
The Chargers and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell may be sharing a similar feeling about facing Peterson. When they look at videotape of Vikings games, you can bet they see many of the similarities opposing defensive coaches see when they try to game-plan for Tomlinson.
"There are definitely some similarities between then," safety Darren Sharper
said. "They're both a threat to break a long run on every carry and they both are great receivers out of the backfield. They can make the big plays that win you games. But it's hard to compare them against each other. (Tomlinson) has been doing it for a long time. A.P. has only been in the league for seven games."
While the spotlights will be brightly burning on the Colts-Patriots game later in the day Sunday, the rest of the early games have essentially been relegated to the status of junior varsity action – the warm-up band for the headliner. But, for real NFL fans, the matchup of two of the games premier running backs is going to be a pretty solid opening act for those preparing to be a football couch potato Sunday, and both the Vikings and Chargers are going to look to steal some of the thunder away from the New England-Indianapolis matchup.
"You have a couple of teams that really need a win badly," Birk said. "We're 2-5 and that's not where we expected we would be. San Diego got off to a tough start and they need a win badly to get back to where they want to be. Both teams are going to come out and try to take over the game with their running backs. It will probably come down to which team can stop the other guys' running back to decide who is going to win. We both have the drive to try to dominate the game on the ground and two of the best running backs to get that job done. You couldn't ask for much more than that."
The reigning MVP of the league has a chance to show the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year how things are done differently by a veteran. Some Vikings players compared LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson while others scoffed at the comparisons.
L.T. vs. A.P.: MVP vs. Rookie of the Year?
Some Vikings players compared Tomlinson and Peterson while others scoffed at the comparisons.