NFL Nation: William Andrews

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even before Friday's news that he would be listed as doubtful for the final game of the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 season, this year would have to qualify as a trying one for Adrian Peterson. The reigning NFL MVP began with talk of breaking Eric Dickerson's season rushing record after falling just 8 yards short last year, and his team had aspirations of a deep playoff run after a surprising 10-6 finish in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsHistory suggests that Adrian Peterson, who will be 29 at the start of next season, may have peaked as a running back.
Only time will tell whether Peterson's 2013 season was an injury-induced fluke, a regression to the mean or the toll of a heavy workload catching up with him. And it's not like he's had a bad season. Assuming he doesn't play Sunday, Peterson will still, in all likelihood, finish among the league's top five or six rushers, despite carrying just 18 times in the Vikings' final four games. He had a shot at his second straight rushing title despite playing much of the year with nagging hamstring, groin and foot injuries that sapped his breakaway speed and made Peterson, by his own admission, run tentatively at times.

But time won't give Peterson -- or the Vikings -- this year back, and by the next time he steps onto a football field, he'll be 29 years old, gearing up for the first of two seasons outdoors. The Vikings' next indoor home game will come when Peterson is 31 years old in 2016. In light of all that, it's not hard to feel a lingering sense that Peterson's time as an elite running back might be slipping away.

History certainly doesn't play in his favor. Peterson has run for at least 1,300 yards in four of his seven NFL seasons; since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only 11 running backs have run for at least 1,300 in a season. The number of 1,300-yard seasons by a 30-year-old running back drops to nine, and by age 31, it's down to five. Only one running back since the merger -- Walter Payton in 1986 -- has run for more than 1,300 yards at age 32, and Payton is the only one even to eclipse 1,200 yards at that age.

Peterson's 1,266 yards are the 20th-most by a 28-year-old running back, behind lesser lights like William Andrews, Christian Okoye and Terry Allen. None of those players eclipsed 1,300 yards again after their age-28 season, and only Okoye posted another 1,000-yard season.

Peterson has much more in common with thoroughbreds like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Payton, and all three had seasons between the realms of great and dominant after they hit 29; Smith hit 1,332 yards at 29 and 1,397 at 30, Payton ran for at least 1,300 yards each year from 29 to 32, and Sanders had his MVP-winning, 2,053-yard season at 29 before running for 1,491 at 30 and then calling it quits.

But let's say Peterson can do that. He'll still have to carry a Vikings team that could be breaking in another new quarterback, and he'll have to play the next two seasons outdoors, where he's averaged about a quarter yard less (4.84) a carry in his career than he has indoors (5.08), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The running back has made no secret of his disdain for playing outdoors, and while bad weather might limit passing games, it can also slow down backs looking for big gains.

These numbers won't be popular with Vikings fans -- and probably not with Peterson, who enjoys few things more than excelling in the face of long odds. But Smith, Sanders and Payton enjoyed defying the odds, too, and time eventually caught up with all of them; Payton retired after a 533-yard season at age 33, while Smith never averaged more than four yards a carry after 32.

There's strong statistical evidence that elite seasons by a running back become increasingly rare after the age of 28, and even if Peterson can crank out a few more, the Vikings can't count on him being in a stratosphere of his own for much longer. That they couldn't do more with his age-28 season has to register as a disappointment.
It’s kind of fitting that the newest member of the Atlanta Falcons' Ring of Honor will be inducted during the Nov. 11 game against Baltimore that will be played in prime time. Yes, it’s Deion Sanders.

The Falcons just announced that Sanders will be the eighth member of the Ring of Honor.

"Deion Sanders is widely regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the 91-year history of the National Football League," Falcons Owner & CEO Arthur Blank said. "He epitomized excellence on the playing field and was a tremendously gifted athlete who possessed great speed. Deion excelled as a defender, kick returner, punt returner and on offense on his way to establishing 12 club records. He was an electrifying performer who put fans on the edge of their seats every time he manned his cornerback position or dropped back to receive a kickoff or field a punt. He is without question one of the greatest players in the history of our franchise."

Blank pretty nicely summed up what Sanders did for the Falcons from 1989 through 1993. Sanders will join William Andrews, Steve Bartkowski, Mike Kenn, Claude Humphrey, Tommy Nobis, Jessie Tuggle and Jeff Van Note in the Ring of Honor.

Best Falcons Team Ever: 1998

June, 28, 2010
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Notable players: QB Chris Chandler, RB Jamal Anderson, WR Terance Mathis, LB Jessie Tuggle, K Morten Andersen, LB Cornelius Bennett.

[+] EnlargeJamal Anderson
Getty ImagesJamal Anderson rushed for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1998.
If ever there’s been a one-year wonder, it was the 1998 Atlanta Falcons. For the better part of three months, this team was as hot as any team ever and it really didn’t matter who was coaching.

With coach Dan Reeves having open-heart surgery late in the season, Rich Brooks took over as the interim coach and the Falcons just kept on winning with a great defense and Anderson having a huge year. The Falcons went from Oct. 25, 1998, until the Super Bowl on Jan. 31, 1999, and didn’t lose a game.

During a Dec. 13 victory in New Orleans that made the Falcons 12-2, Reeves began experiencing chest pains. When he mentioned it to team doctors the next morning, they took a look and quickly rushed him into surgery. Without Reeves, the Falcons won the next two regular-season games to finish a franchise-best 14-2.

With some help from a first-round bye, Reeves was able to return for two very narrow playoff victories against San Francisco and Minnesota. The NFC Championship Game was in Minnesota, but Atlanta upset the Vikings. That also put the Falcons into the Super Bowl for the first -- and only -- time. The opponent was Denver.

That set up a great subplot as Reeves went against John Elway, the quarterback he had clashed with when they were together with the Broncos. Things didn’t go well for the Falcons even before the game.

Safety Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before the game and that created turmoil for Reeves and the Falcons. In the end, Robinson played, but it didn’t really matter. Elway and the Broncos had the upper hand, winning 34-19.

Most impressive win: The Nov. 1 game against St. Louis gets an honorable mention because it came after the Falcons got trashed by the Jets and it started the long winning streak. But people who were with the team then said the most important game was on Dec. 20 at Detroit. With Brooks coaching the team, the Falcons overcame three deficits to win 24-17 and clinched the NFC West title (this was before the NFC South was formed in 2002).

Research room: The 1998 Falcons led the NFL in takeaways (44), fumble recoveries (25 ) and time of possession (33:10).

Honorable mention

1980: With quarterback Steve Bartkowski and running back William Andrews leading the way, the Falcons won a division title for the first time in franchise history.

2008: In the aftermath of Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick, coach Mike Smith came in and took over a team that was expected by many to be horrible. With rookie Matt Ryan at quarterback, the Falcons went to the playoffs.

2002: This team made history by going into Lambeau Field and handing the Packers their first home playoff loss in franchise history.

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