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Next Gen Stats: Peterson recaptures famed fifth gear

Despite generating a season-high 192 yards from scrimmage in the Vikings' Week 2 victory, Adrian Peterson's famed fifth-gear was noticeably missing on a 49-yard catch-and-run through open prairie land.

After Peterson showed off his trademark power and explosive slashing in a highlight-filled performance the next week, the only question remaining was whether he would be able to pull away from defenders for game-breaking runs as he did back in his 2012 MVP season.

"I think I'm back," Peterson declared after that performance, conceding that his conditioning was suboptimal in September after sitting out the entire preseason schedule.

He bolstered that statement with authority on a 48-yard, fourth-down burst that brought the Vikings back into the game early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's nail-biting loss at Denver.

Per Next Gen Stats, Peterson reached a season-best speed of 21.89 mph -- the highest of any Week 4 running back -- while streaking past Darian Stewart and eliminating the free safety's angle.

It's exactly the kind of back-breaking sprint Peterson pulled off in routine fashion three years ago, gashing stacked boxes en route to the greatest 10-game stretch (1,598 rushing) in NFL history.

For what it's worth, the NFL's rushing leader has more yards through four games this season (372) than he did after four games in 2012 (332), when he came within eight yards of Eric Dickerson's single-season record.

Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 4:

  1. Rams rookie Todd Gurley arrived on the NFL scene with his best Peterson impression, rushing for more yards in the fourth quarter Sunday than any running back has compiled in the fourth quarter of the entire season. Eliminating any doubts that he's fully recovered from ACL surgery, Gurley also had as many runs of 20-plus yards (four) in the third and fourth quarters as any player has had in all four games combined.

Showing a rare power-speed combination that backs not named Peterson could only imagine, Gurley exploded for a 52-yard run in the fourth quarter, reaching the third-highest speed (20.84 mph) by a running back with the ball in Week 4.

"He's everything that he was supposed to be, as good as advertised coming into the league," NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks said on Monday's edition of the Move The Sticks Podcast. "You thought he would lose some of the stuff in terms of his speed, physicality, his toughness coming off the injury where you'd think you would see a tentative player. Not at all. This guy is a big-time player. A guy who brings all of the skills that you look for at the position. And he's workhorse, he's everything I thought he would be in the National Football League and I'm surprised he was able to catch on so quickly and become that player."

  1. Peterson and Gurley weren't the only backs facing questions about their speed entering the season. Coming off knee surgery, Saintssatellite backC.J. Spiller had been a flop through nearly 12 full quarters in his return from an August knee scope. Sean Payton had to be feeling better after Spiller reached a speed of 20.80 mph on his 80-yard, game-winning touchdown.
  1. Michael Vick isn't the superlative athlete that he was a half-decade ago in his return from ignominy, but the 35-year-old quarterback still recorded the game's top three speeds by a ball carrier -- all above 20.0 mph -- in last Thursday's loss to the Ravens.
  1. Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo has been a draft bust to date because there's no power element in his repertoire. If there's one saving grace to his game, it's that edge rushers simply don't move like he did in tracking down Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman at the end of a 68-yard catch-and-run. Mingo reached a top speed of 21.11 mph in pursuit while Inman topped out at 21.04, which allowed the linebacker to catch the wideout despite 10.62 yards of separation at the catch point.
  1. The Jets aren't breaking deep threat Devin Smith in slowly after the second-round speedster missed a month and a half with fractured ribs. Smith played 83 percent of the snaps in his Week 3 debut, covering the most distance from scrimmage among wide receivers. He went on to play more snaps than starter Eric Decker (52 to 46) in Week 4. While that is partially due to Decker's nagging knee injury, the playing time suggests Smith's role will incrementally increase.
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