EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jasper Brinkley played for the Minnesota Vikings from 2009-12, and again in 2014. Among his many close friends from his time purple is Adrian Peterson, who will be one of the guests at Brinkley's wedding this coming offseason.
But for three hours on Sunday night, the bonds between Brinkley and Peterson will grow as cold as the anticipated single-digit temperature in TCF Bank Stadium, where the Giants and Vikings will square off. As the visitor's middle linebacker, Brinkley's most important job will be trying to stop Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher and arguably its finest running back.
"He'll be thought of as one of the greats when he's done playing," Brinkley said today. "Just a hard worker, man, and it pays and it shows. Great guy; he's like family to me."
Peterson has been a catalyst for the run-conscious Vikings all season. He has rushed for more than 100 yards six times, topped by a 203-yard outing in Oakland that included an 80-yard touchdown run. The Vikings won all six of those games, two-thirds of their victories in a 9-5 season.
A 1,000-yarder rusher in seven of his nine seasons, Peterson possesses the qualities essential for running back greatness.
"I think it's the combination of both, speed to power, with him," Brinkley said. "Especially with how explosive he is, and he's strong. Physical guy, man."
This season, Peterson has NFL-high totals of 286 carries for 1,314 yards. But in his last three games – against Seattle, Arizona, and Chicago - he has totaled 18, 69 and 63 yards. The Giants put little stock in those numbers, because they know Peterson is capable of gashing any defense for a big gain – and game – at any time.
So what, specifically, is the challenge in stopping Peterson?
"First of all, because he's so talented, that's the big challenge," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "When you watch him, he's really good at if you make one mistake up front, he's really good at finding it. And when he finds it, he finds it so quick, and he's out and he makes you pay for it. Defensive football against the run is gap-sound, that never changes. But they're not real tricky in what they do. They're just really good at doing it. I think he makes all the offensive linemen really good, like a really good back does. He'll make you pay for sneaking in a gap where you're not supposed to be, and he's gone. So we can't let that happen."
"The challenge is you have to (play) four quarters," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said.
"One thing that he's always been good at, and this goes back a while, you can have him contained for most of the game, and then all of a sudden if you let up one or two plays, he burns you. That's something that you've got to be consistent every single play, and not let him get an inch because that's all he needs. You give him a little, small hole or small crease, and he'll take off."
"He's the last of a dying breed," Brinkley said. "Just how violent he runs, speed, explosiveness, all those things. You don't see many backs with that anymore."
The Giants hope not to see Peterson much on Sunday night.
*Spagnuolo believes Brinkley will have extra incentive playing against his former team.
"He did play up there, so I think he'll be juiced up for it," Spagnuolo said.
But Brinkley downplayed the return-as-motivation angle.
"It's our next game," he said. "I'm just happy to be able to play. I spent five years of my career there, had some great memories there. Just happy to be playing, man.
"The NFL, it's a business, that's how it works. I'm just happy the New York Giants gave me an opportunity to continue playing ball. I want to go out and have a great game for them and my teammates."
*Wide receiver/return specialist Dwayne Harris was today limited in practice with a shoulder injury that prevented him from working yesterday. But Harris said it will not keep him out of the game.
"It felt pretty good," said Harris, who added "not at all," when asked if he had any concerns about the shoulder.
*The Giants are in the unusual position of rooting for longtime rival Philadelphia this week. The Eagles host Washington on Saturday night. If the Redskins win, the Giants are eliminated from playoff consideration.
"We'll definitely know what's happening," said offensive lineman Justin Pugh. "We've got to be cheering for Washington to lose this week and go and handle our business. We've got to prepare to win a game. We've got to get ready to go play a good team on Sunday Night Football who's playing for a spot themselves."
"I know that they will watch it," coach Tom Coughlin said of the Philadelphia-Washington game. "To be honest with you, we've got to go play a football game and play well. And do it for our own personal pride and the pride of the New York Giants. We're going to try to do our part."
Playmakers on the Vikings first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike
*Five Giants players did not practice today, including tackle Ereck Flowers (illness), who was added to the injury report today. The others were linebacker Devon Kennard (foot), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee), safety Cooper Taylor (concussion) and linebacker James Morris (quad).
Running back Orleans Darkwa (illness) and defensive end George Selvie (concussion) practiced fully.
*The Giants trail in the regular-season series with the Vikings, 13-10, but lead the postseason series, 2-1. This will be the Giants' first outdoor game in Minnesota since 1976; the Vikings are concluding their second season playing home games in TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. Their new home, USBank Stadium, which is scheduled to open next year, is under construction on the site where the Metrodome stood from 1982-2013. The teams last faced each other on Oct. 21, 2013, when the Giants ended a six-game, season-opening losing streak with a 23-7 Monday night victory. The Giants' most recent road game vs. the Vikings wasn't played in Minnesota; it was moved to Detroit after the Metrodome roof collapsed during a snowstorm. On Dec. 13, 2010, the Giants won, 21-3, in a game that was played on a Monday night in Ford Field. That victory ended the Giants' four-game losing streak in the series. The Giants' last outdoor game in Minnesota was a 24-7 loss in Metropolitan Stadium on Oct. 17, 1976 – one week after Giants Stadium opened.
*Minnesota has scored 77 fewer points than the Giants, but has won three more games.