CHAMPAIGN—Credit Adrian Peterson with a touchdown and an unofficial fumble recovery all on the same play.
In the second quarter of the biggest game of his professional career, Peterson ripped the ball away from prone Jets safety Sam Garnes with such ferocity that you wondered if maybe he thought he was still on special teams.
"I had to keep that one for my trophy case," said the Bears rookie running back, who tucked it in all the way to the sideline, where he handed off to Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin, who lateraled to assistant Carl Piekarski, who labeled it for posterity.
"That one was special," said Peterson.
Special indeed was Peterson's first career touchdown Sunday, as special as Leon Johnson's first touchdown of the season in the third quarter. Almost as special as a Bears victory over a playoff hopeful but not nearly as intriguing, as Peterson and Johnson's performances Sunday do nothing but cast more doubt on the future of the Bears' running game.
With Anthony Thomas on injured reserve, he doesn't get a chance to finish the season strong, though it's not as if he didn't have his chances to start strong or get strong. Then again, isn't that always the way with the Bears? Someone always ends up making the top draft pick look that much worseand usually in December.
It's not as if Johnson's and Peterson's afternoon will make anyone forget about Ricky Williams. But what the pair did Sunday in gaining 95 yards combined on 22 carries and scoring two touchdowns was make it possible to upset the hapless New York Jets.
Unless you have not seen a Bears game this seasonand certainly you can be forgiven for thatyou know that while they have had a chance to win several of the 10 games they have lost, they simultaneously have looked as if they had no chance to beat anyone, lacking as they have been in both running and stopping the run.
Johnson and Peterson gave them half a chance Sunday, give them half a chance against anyone, Johnson with his ability to break tackles and power forward, and Peterson with gloriously lively young legs that make anything seem possible on every carry.
Johnson said he was motivated by some vague reference to him in some newspaper somewhere that called him a "poor man's" something or other. He wasn't sure, but, boy, did it make him mad.
"I wanted to give an extra effort after that," Johnson said. "It really triggered [something in] me."
Presumably, Johnson would also be a little more jazzed against the Jets, the team that drafted him five years ago and eventually let him go after a series of injuries. But Johnson said it was simply "fun" playing his old team.
"Between plays I was talking to players," said Johnson, who carried 15 times for 56 yards, matching his career-best day for the Jets against the Rams in 1998. "They were saying 'Stay up, Leon, don't go down so early.' They wanted to hit me. And I told them, 'I'm going to be here all game.'"
He was, except for seven carries and one notable second-quarter series by Peterson. It was amazing, really. Sustained drives. Carries for longer than 10 yards. Funny how brilliant John Shoop looks when the offensive line gives the quarterback protection and the running backs follow their blocks.
And Peterson, as suspected given that he became college football's all-time leading rusher for Division I-AA Georgia Southern, is a nifty option. He averaged 5.6 yards Sunday (39 yards on seven carries), making you want to see more.
"We call him the little bouncing ball," Johnson said of the Bears' sixth-round draft choice. "When he gets the ball, all he knows is that he doesn't want to go down."
Shoop said he considered taking Peterson out sooner than he did, "But the best thing he did was he had a blitz pickup, which he had missed last week, so we left him on the field. We always knew he was a strong runner."
Peterson admitted he didn't want to leave the game just when it was getting to be fun. "Everybody feels that way in all sports, whether it's basketball and you're on fire and thinking 'Keep me in' or [in] football," he said. "But it's a team sport and Leon is a great back."
Based on everything else we have seen this season, they both seem to be pretty darned good about now.