Updated Monday, November 5, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Earl Thomas barked. Adrian Peterson shrugged.
The Minnesota running back was in full superhuman mode midway through the second quarter when he collided with Thomas after a 15-yard gain. The Seahawks safety jawed at him, but Peterson was as impervious to trash talk as he was to the Seahawks' reputed run-stuffing defense.
"I was surprised because I got up, and he was celebrating like he just won the lottery or something," Peterson said. "I was shocked. I was just looking at him, like, 'What are you celebrating for? Maybe because you made the tackle, you got me down.' Yeah, that was funny. He's a good guy, though."
The brash Seahawks defense isn't one to yield to the greatness of others. After the Seahawks beat New England last month, cornerback Richard Sherman used Tom Brady's name in vain — to his face. But Peterson doesn't just demand respect; he earns it with breathtaking flair. And though they tried to fluster and contain the NFL's best running back, Peterson rushed for 182 yards and gained the Hawks' reverence.
He couldn't defeat them, however. One player never can. In a 30-20 Seahawks victory, Seattle merely outlasted Peterson and a Minnesota run game that produced 243 yards against the league's fourth-best run defense. The Seahawks picked on second-year quarterback Christian Ponder when Peterson had his back turned, and the result was one of the strangest, most lopsided defensive performances of the season.
For all that good running, the Vikings managed only 287 total yards. Ponder was terrible, completing only 11 of 22 passes for 63 yards. In the second half, he was just 4 of 9 for 21 yards. Factor the Seahawks' four sacks into Minnesota's passing total, and the Vikings had the fewest net passing yards — 44 — the Seahawks have allowed since Philadelphia finished a game 14 years ago with just 12 net passing yards.
The defense deserves credit for being adaptable enough to keep the game under control another way, but the players were too busy appreciating Peterson to accept applause for their versatility.
"I just respect him," defensive end Red Bryant said. "It's not every day you're on the field with a running back of his caliber. You hear about Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders. Adrian Peterson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I can't come up with enough adjectives to describe how special of a running back he is."
Peterson exploited every mistake made by an aggressive Seahawks defense prone to overpursuing. He ran for 74 yards on the second play from scrimmage before getting caught at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, he finished off the drive with a touchdown run, accounting for all 80 yards as Minnesota took a 7-0 lead.
If you wondered if Peterson had recovered fully from tearing two major ligaments in his left knee 11 months ago, he left no doubt Sunday before 67,584 at CenturyLink Field. In a battle of two running backs at their best, he outperformed Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 124 yards. Peterson broke tackles all over the field. He threw a ridiculous spin move on Thomas to avoid going down.
It was as fine a performance as you'll ever see from a running back. Of all the extraordinary offensive players the Seahawks have faced this season — Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald — Peterson is the only one who thrived against them. The Seahawks went from audacious to awestruck.
"He's a special back," Thomas said. "There's a reason why he is who he is."
The Seahawks never really stopped him. Only the Vikings' play-calling kept Peterson from reaching 200 yards. He ran 12 times for 144 of the Vikings' 197 yards in the first half, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called it "a nightmare, to tell you the truth." In the second half, Peterson rushed just five more times and gained 38 yards.
You can't say you played good defense after giving up 243 rushing yards. But after surrendering 228 total yards and 17 points in the first half, the Seahawks returned to stinginess in the second half. Minnesota scored three points and gained 59 yards after halftime. The defense found a different way to do its job and then lived off the offense for a change. It solved its third-down bugaboo, limiting the Vikings to conversions on 3 of 10 third-down tries. And while the defense has been vulnerable to the short passing game, Ponder wasn't successful in that area. Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who entered the game with 60 receptions, caught just two passes and suffered an ankle injury.
The Seahawks stopped everyone but Peterson. On this day, the complicated feat proved much easier than tackling the bionic back.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JerryBrewer
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Minnesota's Adrian Peterson gets the ball aross the goal line for a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter.