"I see Toby break up the sideline," Peterson said. "So, 'Go, Toby, go.'"
What else could happen to the Minnesota Vikings in one of the worst seasons in franchise history? How about losing Peterson to a direct hit on the left knee and Christian Ponder to a possible concussion on back-to-back plays to start the second half? It just didn't seem fair.
And the news only got worse as Saturday went on. The Vikings said an MRI showed that Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and coach Leslie Frazier will provide a further update at his news conference Monday.
But here's a twist: They won the game. Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb answered the call, leading Saturday's 33-26 victory over the Washington Redskins that snapped a six-game losing streak and helped make up for the fact that their best player was standing on crutches in the locker room.
"I can enjoy my Christmas now," Frazier said.
Gerhart scampered for a 67-yard run — the play Peterson saw on TV — to start Minnesota's next series after the Peterson-Ponder injuries and finished with 109 yards on 11 carries. Webb again made a case to be a starting quarterback by throwing for two touchdowns and running for another as the Vikings (3-12) kept alive their hopes to not finish with the worst record in team history. A win next week against Chicago would put them ahead of the dubious 1984 Minnesota team that went 3-13.
Asked if it's time to give the option-running Webb a look at the No. 1 job, Frazier didn't hesitate.
"Some of the things he does, and what it does to the rest of our team, you can't ignore," Frazier said. "So it's something we're going to have a real hard look at as we go forward. He definitely lifts our team."
He might get the start next week, at least, because of Ponder's injury, but Webb surely was an inspiring presence Saturday, completing 4 of 5 passes for 84 yards and rushing five times for 34 yards. His 9-yard touchdown run came on the option, and he put a perfect 17-yard scoring pass into the arms of rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph, a touchdown appropriate for Christmas Eve, to give the Vikings a 23-20 lead late in the third quarter.
"When they bring in a weapon like that," Redskins linebacker Perry Riley said of Webb, "not a secret weapon — we'd seen him on tape and we had a feeling — but it's hard to prepare fully on a short week for two quarterbacks. ... It's hard to change it mid-stream like that."
Webb's 8-yard pass to Percy Harvin broke a 23-all tie early in the fourth quarter, and rookie Mistral Raymond's first career interception set up Ryan Longwell's 23-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 10-point lead with 4:05 to play. Minnesota had gone nine games without a pick before Raymond's big play.
The Redskins pulled within a touchdown on Graham Gano's 47-yard field goal with 1:25 remaining. They got the ball back after a punt, but Rex Grossman's final long fling to the end zone fell incomplete to give Washington (5-10) a sixth straight home loss, its longest such skid since 1994.
Peterson said he knew "it was something bad" the moment he was hit by safety DeJon Gomes at the end of a 3-yard gain on the first offensive play of the second half. The X-rays were negative, but Peterson had an MRI late Saturday after the team returned to Minnesota.
"It's such a special person that you want to be right before you prognosticate on what might be," Frazier said before the exam.
The torn ACL, the worst-case scenario, will likely sideline Peterson for some nine months and make it difficult for him to return for the start of next season.
"Anytime you take a blow to the knee like that, you're concerned about the ACL, MCL," Peterson said before the diagnosis. "I'm trying to stay as positive as I can."
On the play after Peterson was hurt, Ponder suffered a head injury when sacked by Adam Carriker and London Fletcher. Ponder remained in the game for one more play — a third-down incomplete pass — before heading to the locker room.
Frazier said Ponder had "concussion-like symptoms." The coach said he's uncertain whether the quarterback will play in next week's season finale against the Bears.
"We'll have to weigh it when we get back," Frazier said, "and I'll follow the doctor's lead."
With the way Webb is playing, Ponder might get the week off anyway.
Notes: Grossman had two more giveaways — a lost fumble and interception — to put his total at 24 for the season. He was already tied for the most turnovers in the NFL entering the game. ... Washington's Evan Royster, getting the start with fellow rookie Roy Helu out with an injury, ran for 132 yards on 19 carries. ... Minnesota's Jared Allen had one sack to raise his total to 18 1/2. ... The Vikings were also short-handed along the offensive line, with guard Steve Hutchinson inactive with a concussion and guard Anthony Herrera sidelined for part of the game with a lower back injury.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAPSuggest a correction