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Peterson ready to help Vikings chase playoff berth

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Peterson ready to help Vikings chase playoff berth

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) It's all right there for Adrian Peterson now.

One more game in his remarkable comeback season, and the only thing that remains on the line is everything.

A win against the rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday would put his Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. The milestones of 2,000 yards and Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record are there to be had as well, along with a potential MVP award that would cement his standing among the league's great players.

``It's such a big game when you look at everything that can be accomplished,'' Peterson said Wednesday. ``I'm looking forward to it, man. Most importantly, getting into the playoffs, securing that with a win against Green Bay. Having an opportunity to hit 2,000, having an opportunity to break Eric Dickerson's record in the same game, it would be great to accomplish.''

Perhaps the only thing more improbable than the Vikings (9-6) sitting one victory away from a playoff berth is that they have been carried there by Peterson, who tore two ligaments in his left knee just over a year ago. He has already racked up a career-high 1,898 yards rushing this season, leaving him 102 away from becoming the first player to hit 2,000 yards on a reconstructed knee.

His inspiring recovery has galvanized a team that has been teetering on the edge of elimination the last four weeks and has put some of the biggest names to play the position in his corner as he runs toward history. Dickerson is on record as saying he hopes Peterson falls a little shy of his 2,105 yards rushing in 1984, but everyone from Jim Brown to Terrell Davis to Chris Johnson - the last running back to rush for 2,000 yards - have come out in support of his pursuit.

``So impressed by everything (at)AdrianPeterson has done this year,'' Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders tweeted recently. ``Big fan of E.D. But really pulling for AP to break the record. Good luck.''

Peterson needs 208 yards on Sunday to break Dickerson's record, a number that would be considered close to impossible for most running backs in this pass-happy league. But Peterson has topped that twice in the previous four games. He's also rushed for more yards against the Packers than any other team, including 210 yards at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2.

``I wouldn't say I'm rooting for him to get it, but I want him to do the best that he can do,'' said Johnson, who developed a bit of a rivalry with Peterson a few years back when both laid claim to the title of the best running back in the league. ``It's just a nice story from where he got hurt last year. I sent him a text to see how he was doing and stuff like that. I wish him the best and whatever he does, I congratulate him on it and I'll be happy for him.''

Peterson has been humbled by all the support and is understanding of Dickerson's stance, but there is one player he wishes he could sit down with before he plays one of the biggest games of his career - Walter Payton.

``What inspired you to be the best?'' he wishes he could ask the Bears great, who died in 1999. ``How did he deal with success and fame? If he could do anything different, what would it be? What would he have done?''

Peterson speaks to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier about Payton. Frazier was a teammate of Payton's and has routinely said he sees striking similarities between the two, on and off the field.

His name is up there with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the MVP discussion, and an MVP win for Peterson would break a string of five straight given to quarterbacks. He's certainly showing that an offense can be successful while relying heavily on the running game and validating the Vikings' decision to invest heavily in him with a lucrative contract extension before last season.

``I definitely want to keep the running backs highlighted,'' Peterson said. ``It's started to turn into more of a spread, quarterback-friendly NFL. But just keep letting them know that there are going to be running backs that can do this.

``Just give young guys the inspiration to try to be better than me. Just inspire them to get on top of their game to be better so that running backs continue to prosper in this league and have coaches and organizations respect us so we can continue to not only play the game we love, but take care of our family.''

LaDainian Tomlinson, another running back with Texas roots, won the MVP award in 2006, the last time a non-quarterback has won the award.

``It would definitely be nice to do that,'' Peterson said. ``And I feel like it will happen. I just have the confidence in myself and the guys that surround me who have played such a big part in this the whole season.''

One more game to strengthen his case. One more game to reel in those records and try to extend this magical season for at least another week.

``Coming into the season after going through the rehab process, I just told myself that I wanted to lead my team to a championship and make sure that I contribute and do my part,'' Peterson said. ``I've been doing it. I just ask God to continue to bless me.''

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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this story.

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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