ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Adrian Peterson's last game against the Broncos was so long ago that Denver's leading tackler that day was the same man who will be in the broadcast booth high above the 50-yard-line Sunday.
That Dec. 30, 2007 game between two teams playing out the string proved to be John Lynch's last regular-season game. Two of his nine tackles saw him wrap up Peterson, who didn't even start what proved to be a 22-19 Broncos win that concluded a desultory 7-9 campaign.
Peterson didn't play when the teams met four Decembers later; he was injured. And given that the Broncos had to stage a furious second-half comeback to complete a 35-32 win, he might have ended up being the difference in that game if he had played. Of course, replacement Toby Gerhart ran for 91 yards on 21 carries and the Broncos were without a star of their own in Von Miller, who injured his thumb a week earlier.
So it's been a long time. In the years since then, Peterson established a resume that has him on a Canton trajectory: 10,481 yards on the ground; another 1,794 yards on 213 receptions and 93 total touchdowns.
If Peterson continues on the pace he's established as the league's leading rusher through three weeks, he'll add another 1,261 yards to his career total. That doesn't push him to Hall of Fame lock status, but it draws him close.
That's what the Broncos face Sunday: a potential Hall of Famer who is fresh and appears to still be in his prime. And for the most part, as Peterson goes, so go the Vikings.
Peterson is where this week's Three Keys begin.
1. CONTAIN ADRIAN PETERSON.
Each week has brought a new challenge for the Broncos' defense: Steve Smith Sr.'s athleticism, Jamaal Charles' breakaway potential, and, last week, the potent explosive threat posed by Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.
So far, the defense has passed every examination, with two forced fumbles out of Charles making up for the 125 rushing yards he gained, including 34 on his second-quarter touchdown.
Charles' career fumble rate (one every 62.5 touches) is slightly worse than Peterson's (one every 67.8), but more than half (20) of Peterson's 33 career fumbles came in his first three seasons. Since then, his fumble rate is one every 93.9 touches -- although that includes two fumbles in 64 touches this season.
The Broncos' equation for success against Peterson might be similar to Week 2: yield some yardage, but compensate with takeaways.
"He's going to make plays and we've got to limit those 60-yarders and those 80-yarders," OLB Von Miller said. "We've got to limit those. He's going to make plays. There has never been a running back like him in the league. He's going to make plays. We've just got to keep them down to a minimum."
When Peterson is in the lineup, the Vikings are 28-15-1 all-time when he rushes for at least 100 yards, and 25-38 when he doesn't. In his last 10 100-yard games, the Vikings are 7-2-1; in that same span, the Vikings are 3-10 when Peterson plays and doesn't gain at least 100 yards.
- KEEP PEYTON MANNING UPRIGHT.**
The Broncos had their best game last week in terms of preventing sacks; Manning was sacked just once. But they allowed Manning to be hit eight times by the Lions.
Although the focus will be on Harris and Schofield working at the tackle spots, Minnesota is one of the league's best at generating pressure through the A- and B-gaps, so the interior of the Broncos' offensive line must hold up, and the running backs must be successful in picking up blitzes.
Minnesota likes to use linebacker Anthony Barr on blitzes -- both immediate and delayed -- up the middle, and he's recorded four of the Vikings' 18 quarterback hits, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
On the outside, Brian Robison has 14 hurries and poses a stern challenge for first-time starter Michael Schofield, who makes his regular-season debut at right tackle. Everson Griffen leads the Vikings in sacks and provides a stern re-introduction to life at left tackle for Ryan Harris, who starts there for the first time in two years. (Harris is also the only Bronco on the roster who played in that 2007 game against the Vikings.)
- FORCE THE VIKINGS TO CHASE FROM BEHIND.**
An offense predicated on dictating the tempo and grinding out yardage is also one that isn't ideally equipped to mount a comeback. But it is built to maintain a lead.
In their two wins over the Lions and Chargers, the Vikings sailed to second-quarter leads of 14-0 and 10-0, respectively. San Diego pulled within 10-7, but after a three-and-out to start the second half, Peterson sprinted 43 yards for a touchdown, and Minnesota was never seriously threatened.
In the second halves of their two wins, the Vikings ran the football nearly twice as often as they passed it (34 runs, 18 passes). This is the type of game they want to play, not the one that they had in Week 1 against the 49ers, when they ran eight times and had 20 pass plays in the second half of a 20-3 loss.