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Vikings full of surprises this season

By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Raise your hand if you had the Vikings winning their first five home games of 2012. Speak up if you thought they’d be one of the first three teams in the NFL to record six victories. Yep, both goals can be reached Thursday against Tampa Bay. But wait, there’s more. Here’s a trio of other things you should know in this edition of Three-and-Out.

1. Adrian Peterson might be ready to reclaim his place as the most dangerous running back in the NFL.

Don’t look now, but Peterson should move to the top of the league’s rushing rankings in the first quarter of Thursday’s game.

After erupting for 153 rushing yards in Sunday’s victory over Arizona, Peterson has 652 rushing yards this season, third best in the league. Only Houston’s Arian Foster (659) and Washington’s Alfred Morris (658) have done more damage.

Yes, Peterson continues dealing with soreness in his left ankle and didn’t practice Tuesday. But last week, he had similar pain — even worse, he said. Yet he still ran wild against the Cardinals.

That’s been some scary footage for Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano to watch this week.

“He runs with an attitude,” Schiano said. “And he’s got the body and the skills to do it. There are some guys who float. This guy? He runs angry.”

Hard as it may be to fathom, Peterson is currently on pace to rush for 1,490 yards, which would register as his second-best season behind the 1,760 yards he posted in 2008.

And if you’re wondering just how his impressive start to 2012 compares, well, fast starts have become a Peterson staple the past six seasons.

The most yards from scrimmage Peterson has ever had through eight games was 1,242 back in his rookie year of 2007. He enters Thursday’s contest with 787 total yards (652 rushing and 135 receiving). Peterson never has had fewer than 800 total yards through the first eight games of a season.

2.  The Vikings aren’t the only one with a graybeard in the secondary who’s still playing at a high level.

Yep, 35-year-old cornerback Antoine Winfield continues to wow teammates and coaches with his savvy and power. But in Tampa Bay, safety Ronde Barber also is flourishing at his advanced age, set to make his 206th consecutive career start Thursday. Barber is 37 and in his 16th season. And last week, he recorded his 46th career interception, extending his franchise record.

Barber has three picks this season, including one he returned 78 yards for a score against Kansas City two weeks ago. All this while adapting to a new role at safety this season.

Barber’s leadership has been particularly helpful for their other safety, rookie Mark Barron, who was 7 when Barber was drafted in 1997.

Still, the bond between Barber and Barron continues budding.

“It’s an interesting relationship,” Schiano said. “Ronde has a ton of experience in this league but none at that position. This is his first time playing safety. And Mark has no experience in this league but a ton at that position. So they really can help each other and have helped each other a lot.”

3. The Vikings still remember last season’s game with the Buccaneers, a 24-20 home loss in Week 2.

On Tuesday, Jared Allen was asked if he had watched much of that tape this week, a meltdown that saw the Vikings blow a 17-0 halftime lead.

“I don’t need to look at it; I remember it clearly,” Allen said.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier also acknowledged the rough memory, but also was quick to point out how little relevance that game film has now.

Of the 22 players Tampa Bay started that day, only nine still start for the Bucs.

Furthermore, Tampa Bay has an entirely new coaching staff led by Schiano.

Personnel is different. Schemes are different.

Most of all, Frazier hopes, his team’s ability to finish is different this season.

After all, the Vikings have held a halftime lead four times this season and are unbeaten in those games. That’s quite a departure from the first month of 2011 when blown leads were the norm.

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