MINNEAPOLIS – Imagine young Robert Griffin III running a form of the tricky read-option offense, with a still-in-his-prime Adrian Peterson behind him for handoffs.
Even with a reconstructed knee on each of their blazing-fast bodies, that'd be a dangerous combination for opposing defenses to handle for years to come. Well, if a few plays went the other way on that fateful Christmas Eve day, these stars could have been teammates.
The story is well-known by now but worth retelling with Griffin's Washington Redskins visiting Peterson's Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.
Two years ago, in the second-to-last game of the season, Peterson tore ligaments in his left knee. Toby Gerhart and backup quarterback Joe Webb rallied the Vikings to victory that ensured their record was better than Indianapolis or St. Louis.
The Colts took Andrew Luck, the Rams traded the second slot for three first-rounders and a second-round selection, and the Redskins jumped up to nab Griffin. The Vikings stuck with Christian Ponder, the quarterback they drafted in 2011 with the 12th overall pick.
Griffin said this week he and Peterson spoke prior to his draft about the tantalizing possibility of them playing together.
"But I wasn't a basketball player, and this wasn't free agency. It's not like I had a choice. We didn't have any control over that," Griffin said. "It would have been awesome, but I feel blessed to be in the situation that I am."
The Vikings wound up trading down from third to fourth to select left tackle Matt Kalil and collect additional picks from the Cleveland Browns. The unknown is whether the Vikings, had they lost one more game that year, would have done the same as the Rams to accumulate more picks. Or stayed put to get Griffin and relegate Ponder to backup status after starting only 10 games as a rookie.
"I was told by a few people from the outside that if I had fallen to No. 3 they weren't going to leave me on the board," Griffin said. "But nothing as far as them wanting to move up or just dying to have me. Just kind of if I was there, they were going to take me."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier laughed off a query this week whether he thinks back to that fateful game of his first full season in charge.
"I'm not looking at what's happening at the draft. I just want us to win," Frazier said.
Here are five things to know about the game between the Redskins (3-5) and Vikings (1-7):
RUNAWAY ROBERT: Griffin's breakout performance running the read-option came against the Vikings last October, when he ripped off a game-sealing 76-yard touchdown run, his second score on the ground that day. Griffin finished with 20 touchdowns passing and seven rushing last year, with only seven turnovers. Recovering from knee surgery has proved challenging, though. Griffin has nine touchdowns in eight games, none on the ground, and 12 turnovers already.
"That's something we stress all the time, so hopefully we can get better in the second half of the season," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.
PETERSON'S PACE: Peterson finally became the fulcrum of the offense again last week after three straight games, for various reasons, with a minimal amount of carries. He rushed 25 times for 140 yards in a last-second defeat to the Dallas Cowboys, the third such loss this year decided in the final minute.
"I feel like this is something we're going to stick to," Peterson said.
PONDERING THE FUTURE: Ponder appeared headed for clipboard duty last month when Matt Cassel started ahead of him, the same week the Vikings signed Josh Freeman. Cassel struggled in that game against the Carolina Panthers, though, and Freeman was even worse the following game and sustained a concussion. Here comes Ponder's third straight start. Frazier said Ponder "has no reason to look over his shoulder" if he makes a bad play or commits a turnover.
"I think I fully trust my ability and everything that's going on," Ponder said, adding: "Obviously this year has been a little tougher, but I believe in what I can do and expect that things will work out."
STILL STANDING: The Redskins started 3-6 last season before winning seven straight games to win the NFC East and get the requisite home playoff game that comes with the division title. That goal remains well within reach in this mediocre group, with the Cowboys (5-4) and Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) barely ahead of them.
PASSING POTENTIAL: Griffin and Ponder are in position for productive evenings, given the defenses they'll be facing. The Redskins have allowed 17 touchdowns passing and the Vikings 18, two of the three highest totals in the league. Only the Buffalo Bills have allowed more.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org