ASHBURN, Va. — Adrian Peterson knows you’re watching, waiting, perhaps even hoping.
The future Hall of Fame running back has heard all of the chatter and all of your questions about his longevity and his ability, at age 33, to keep up this unexpected pace. He also knows you nonbelievers expect him to falter, to get injured, and worse, fail to live up to the vision of who he claims to still be.
And, quite frankly, that makes his early success with the Washington Redskins “a little more sweet,” he admitted.
“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t,” Peterson told Yahoo Sports by phone Monday evening. “It does because people are discovering something that I already knew that I had within me. The people that are not around, that don’t see the grind that I put in, that don’t see me outworking 20-year-old guys that are just going into the league — they don’t see none of that.”
Peterson, who signed a one-year, veteran minimum $1.015 million contract with Washington on Aug. 20, is currently fifth in the NFL with 236 rushing yards — just behind Los Angeles Rams star Todd Gurley — and has three rushing touchdowns in three games with the Redskins (2-1).
New York Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley (216) is sixth in rushing yards and Pittsburgh’s burgeoning star James Conner (who is starting in the absence of Le’Veon Bell) is seventh with 213.
So far, Peterson has looked like the “AP” of old: A dynamic playmaker who still possesses the physicality, grace and cut-back ability that once made him the best at his position. And even he can’t help but think there are some NFL teams who now realize they should have called him this offseason.
“I do believe that,” Peterson said, before mentioning the Arizona Cardinals, his previous team and the Redskins’ Week 1 opponent. He rushed for 96 yards on 26 carries in Washington’s 24-6 win over the Cardinals, who placed Peterson on injured reserve in December 2017. They released him in March, only five months after trading for him.
Peterson said Monday that he was “cool with” playing behind 26-year-old David Johnson, whom he called “a heck of a running back. … But I don’t see why you wouldn’t keep me around to complement him, if that’s what you want to go with.”
He also cited the Green Bay Packers, who dealt with a string of running back injuries last season, as another possible destination. “It was like, ‘Hey, why not bring me in?’” he asked. “Funny thing is, those were two of the teams I played so far [with Washington]. It’s kind of funny to me.
“I’m sure teams will look back and be like, ‘Man, we had the opportunity, but for whatever reason we missed out on that one.’”
After only three August practices with the Redskins, he showcased vintage “All Day” in his preseason debut against Denver, carrying the ball seven times on one series and finishing the game with 56 yards on 11 carries.
“I did decent,” the 2012 MVP matter-of-factly said.
In Sunday’s 31-17 win over the Packers, Peterson rushed for 120 yards, including a 41-yarder in the second quarter that set up a Jamison Crowder score. Now, all he needs is nine more touchdowns to pass Walter Payton (110) on the all-time rushing touchdown list and 228 yards to pass Tony Dorsett for ninth on the all-time rushing list.
And yet, Peterson knows people are still waiting for him to stumble.
“Oh yeah, without a doubt,” he said from his Ashburn residence roughly 10 minutes from the team’s facility. “That’s just the way of the world. But I also know that there’s more people out there who want to see me be successful; they just don’t have the platform or the voice to be heard like some of these commentators or some of these people that come up with these stories. I stay focused on the people that are riding with me.”
At Redskins Park on Monday morning, a television in the near-empty locker room was tuned to an ESPN debate show. The burning question of the moment — “Can Adrian Peterson keep this up?” — flashed at the bottom of the screen.
Everyone wants to know if Peterson can be “All Day” all year.
“Before I got signed, it was a different narrative. Oh, he should retire. Oh, he’s washed up. Right?” Peterson said with a laugh over the phone. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another. They see I’m still playing at a high level, now it’s, ‘OK, let’s see how long he can do it.’
“They give themselves a window if something happens, like, ‘Well, see, I told you! This was going to happen! He was going to get hurt!’ It’s sad. It’s sad to me.”
Given his quick exit from New Orleans last season (Peterson was signed to a two-year deal in April 2017, but was traded to Arizona after only four games), his paltry statistics with the Cardinals and his age, many assumed the Peterson of old was no more. Instead, the running back has reinvented himself once more with the Redskins.
“If I didn’t have an offensive line in front of me, I wouldn’t have the success that I’ve had with the Redskins now,” Peterson said. “In Arizona, that was probably the worst offensive line I’ve played behind in my entire career. And that was due to a lot of injuries and things like that. I’m mindful of that, but people aren’t. They just feel like you should be Superman, no matter if you don’t have an offensive line in front of you, you should still get out there and be productive. And when you don’t, it’s, ‘Oh, he doesn’t have it anymore.’”
Peterson’s biggest gripe is with former players-turned-analysts who “should understand.”
“At the end of the day,” he added, “it doesn’t matter if the starters were hurt or not, those guys in front of me were doing their best and they’ve got families, they’ve got friends, they’ve got loved ones and they’re NFL players. But it is what it is. That’s not something that I, being the type of person that I am, would go out and say every time I talk to the media: Shoot, the offensive line was terrible. It’s something that I keep to myself because I feel like I’m built to be able to take all of the negative stuff people have to say about me. But like any other person, there’s been times where I’ve wanted to say that … on several occasions. But I bite my tongue.”
Peterson cited the recent struggles of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning as proof of how debilitating a bad offensive line can be: “I don’t think Eli Manning is a bad quarterback or he lost anything. I don’t care who you are; you can get Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers — he’s going to get tore up when you don’t have an offensive line.”
With Washington on a bye this week, attention will soon shift to the Redskins’ “Monday Night Football” showdown in New Orleans on Oct. 8 — and whether Peterson will live up to the hype in prime time. But that’s OK. The running back takes prides in defying the odds and shattering the expectations of others.
He credits his strict training and organic diet for his overall health, but his gains on the field are a direct result of having “a different mindset,” he said.
“Your body can do some incredible feats, but only if you allow your mind to take you there,” said Peterson, who highlighted late martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, 45, and Miami Dolphins running back Frank Gore, 35, as prime examples.“Seeing these people is just confirmation that I’m on the right track.”
If Redskins second-round pick Derrius Guice hadn’t tore his ACL in Week 1 of the preseason, Washington’s front office may not have had any need for Peterson. But the seven-time Pro Bowler says he hasn’t even considered that fact — mainly because he’s certain an opportunity would have presented itself at some point this year.
“For instance, with Pittsburgh,” Peterson said, “I know that organization, as far as their talent evaluators, they know that I’ve got something. A lot of people don’t know this because it’s not something that I talk about, but before I signed with the Saints, they were a team that reached out. I just never said anything to anyone about it because I was already locked in and knew that I wanted to sign with the Saints. But Pittsburgh was a team that kind of reached out as well.”
Given the current turmoil with Bell, could Peterson have seen himself in black and yellow this season?
“I couldn’t say for sure Pittsburgh, but I can say somewhere, without a doubt,” he said. “I know in my heart that, had this situation not worked out the way it did, someone would have given me the opportunity.”
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