Is it possible to build momentum off a loss? Adrian Peterson thinks so.
Last week, the Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers, but they were in it until the final two minutes and Peterson produced his highest rushing total (175 yards) in almost two years. He said that nobody in the Vikings locker room envisioned a 1-6 start, adding that many of them have never been in such a position, dating back to their first indoctrination to the game. It's been a difficult couple of months, but Peterson said nobody in the locker room is giving up on turning things around, even if it's too late to make a playoff run.
"It always tough, but you've just got to fight through it," Peterson said. "It's one of those situations that we're going through as a team, but we're staying focused and pushing through it."
There is reason for Peterson to be upbeat about his chances. Thanks to injuries at the linebacker position by the Panthers, teams that have a primary running back have torn them up almost every week.
In Week 1, Arizona's Beanie Wells rushed 18 times for 90 yards and a touchdown. In Week 3, Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville ran 24 times for 122 yards. In Week 4, Chicago's Matt Forte rushed 25 times for 205 yards and a touchdown. In Week 6, Michael Turner ran 27 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Last week, before he got injured in the second half, Tim Hightower of the Redskins had 17 carries for 88 yards. The only teams that haven't had a runner shred the Panther defense are teams that have a committee backfield (Green Bay and New Orleans).
While those numbers would get most running backs excited about their prospects, Peterson said the Vikings aren't putting the cart before the horse. When they played the Chiefs earlier this month, the expectation was the A.P. could go off for 200 yards. Instead, he was bottled up the entire game.
"When you look at it, you could say that," Peterson said of predictions for a big game. "But I flip it back to Kansas City. Those guys were 28th against the run and we weren't really effective. We look to be effective in the run game to balance out the pass game. That's the mindset we're going in with – to be balanced and be productive in all areas."
Peterson said that rookie QB Christian Ponder has provided the spark expected when the Vikings made the switch at quarterback last week. His ability to throw the deep pass loosened up the Packers defense and Peterson said he didn't constantly face eight or nine men in the box on every play. He credited Ponder's presence for making the offense better – both in the running game and passing game.
"He definitely helped the offensive tremendously," Peterson said of Ponder. "He opened up the passing game and it kind of goes hand in hand – the run creating the pass and the pass creating the run. We were definitely more balanced."
While he is posting excellent personal numbers, one underappreciated aspect of Peterson's game has been his blocking ability. In his first couple of seasons, Peterson would come off the field because he wasn't a dominating blocker. He said he has put in a lot of work to improve on that aspect on his game and, with opponents sure to blitz the young, inexperienced Ponder and force Peterson to pick them up before they can get to No. 7.
"A take a lot of pride in it," Peterson said. "That's one of the main focuses as a running back is making sure you are on the same page and protecting the quarterback, especially when you have a young guy back there. You don't want him to take too many blows. We take pride in that as far as the running back group."
Peterson said there is still a lot of frustration for himself and his teammates, who are convinced they should be 5-2 rather than 1-6, but he said the team accomplished good things against the Packers and hope to use that performance and the fresh start Ponder has provided as a jumping off point moving forward.
"I feel like we took some steps forward," Peterson said. "We have to make sure we correct the things that we need to correct and keep doing the things that we're doing well."
Is he still frustrated? You bet he is. But, he isn't about to dial it back and write off the 2011 season. The Vikings are still mathematically alive for the playoff chase (although it may involve running the table), and Peterson said he is staying positive and will do everything in his power to reverse the misfortunes the Vikings have suffered in the first two months of the 2011 season.
"I don't know how to feel," Peterson said. "It's not the best of feelings, but I'm still keeping hope alive that we can turn things around."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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