ADRIAN PETERSON isn't invincible.

He fumbled the ball nine times this season, five times in December, so, apparently, he isn't perfect. He aggravated a left ankle sprain, so, apparently, he is not bionic.

He failed to crack the 100-yard rushing mark six times this season. The Vikings lost three of those games - so, he isn't unstoppable.

Still, the Eagles realize what Peterson is:

"One of the best, if not the best running back in the National Football League," coach Andy Reid said. "Maybe the MVP of the National Football League."

He's more than just that.

He's the man whom Reid's Eagles must stop if they have a chance of winning their wild-card playoff game Sunday in Minneapolis.

Only Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James and Earl Campbell ran for more yards in their first two seasons than Peterson's 3,101, including the league-best 1,760 this season. Like that trio, Peterson can change a game with a single blast up the middle.

"You think you've got the perfect defense, and all of a sudden one guy slips and falls down or gets out of a gap. He's got that great explosion to hit it," said defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. "It can turn into a big thing. Our objective is to keep those big runs down. He's going to get some yards. You just hope he doesn't break the long run. That's where he kills teams, when he gets those 60-, 70-yard runs."

Peterson has 20 runs of at least 20 yards.

As a team, the Eagles have 11.

Johnson said he wants to limit any Peterson run to 10 yards or less. That's how the Eagles slowed him last season in their 23-16 road win.

In that game, Peterson gained 70 yards on 20 rushes. He gained 2 yards or less 13 times. He gained 1 yard or less 10 times.

But when he busted one for 16 yards, the Vikings went on to score a touchdown. His 17-yard run set up a field goal.

Can the Birds do it again?

"It's the same offense," Johnson said. "The same running back."

But a different offensive personality.

Last year, the Eagles knocked quarterback Kelly Holcombe out of the game. They found replacement Brooks Bollinger even less challenging.

This season, veteran backup Gus Frerotte resurrected the Vikings. Now, after sitting 3 1/2 games with a back injury, Frerotte finds himself toiling behind Tarvaris Jackson, who has reclaimed the starting spot with some hot passing. Jackson has eight touchdowns and one interception in December, when the Vikings went 3-1 after Jackson replaced Frerotte in the second half Dec. 7 in Detroit.

"They've got good receivers. The quarterback's got a gun," Reid insisted.

Maybe so . . . but three NFL receivers have caught more passes by themselves than the Vikings' top two receivers, Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian, combined (101). Backup running back Chester Taylor is third on the team with 45 catches.

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe's seven touchdown grabs make him a viable red-zone weapon, but, really, this is about running it.

The Vikings' 145.8 yards per game is fifth in the league. Only Baltimore and Atlanta run more frequently.

And don't forget, this is an Eagles defense that surrendered 122 rushing yards or more four times this season to attacks led by elite backs Brandon Jacobs, Frank Gore and Clinton Portis (twice). Three of those games predated the adjustments after wholesale defensive-line rotations and the switch at linebacker from Omar Gaither to Akeem Jordan.

Little wonder, then, 6 days removed from the game, before watching a lick of tape, before discussing a scheme, the Birds had A.P. and company on their minds.

"He's one of the best running backs in football, if not the best," said middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. "They have a good center, good guards - the whole offensive line is good. They've got the whole package up there."

"This defensive prides itself so much on shutting down the run, and that's going to be huge for us this week," said defensive tackle Trevor Laws, a rookie run-stopping specialist. "Now, if we can get the running game stopped and control A.P., they'll be a pretty much one-dimensional team."

Laws should know. He grew up in Apple Valley, Minn., 18 miles south of the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome, and he monitors all things Viking.

"I'm from Minnesota. I was a big A.P. fan coming out of high school and stuff," Laws said. "Now, getting to play against him is awesome. He's a great player. I'm excited to go up there and bust some heads with him."

And only him?

Laws considered: "Well, you don't want to load the box up too much."

"They won 10 games," Bradley agreed. "They can't be too one-dimensional, right?"

They can if it works. *