Eight-plus years ago, Adrian Peterson took his first reception 60 yards for a touchdown in the 2007 regular-season opener. It also marked the first of his now-47 career 100-yard rushing games.
Since then, it has been a wild ride of records for the incredibly gifted and motivated Minnesota Vikings running back. The current version of the Vikings have 11 first-round picks, but none of them has made the lasting imprint on the franchise as Peterson has. He is arguably the best draft pick the team has ever made, and all these years later he still remembers his first NFL touchdown as he prepares to play the team that rendered it to him.
“I remember going out on a swing route and the ball getting thrown to me. I remember catching it and seeing one guy to beat,” Peterson said of his first career touchdown. “I remember Sidney Rice on the sideline. There was DeAngelo Hall and I remember taking off full speed at him, and Sidney came off and made a great block and I ended up taking it to the house. First touchdown. I don’t remember, did I jump into the crowd? I think I did. I think I made the leap into the crowd. It was one I won’t ever forget.”
All told, Peterson has 97 touchdowns in his career, but only five of them have been on receptions – like that 60-yard reception for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons – and he’s never had more than one receiving touchdown in a season. But when asked what stat he is most proud of, he pointed to his receiving stats – perhaps fueled by the prototypical Peterson line of motivation: if people say he isn’t very good at something, he does everything to prove them wrong.
“I’ve always kind of been labeled as, ‘Oh, he can’t catch the ball’ and this, that and another,” Peterson said. “In the past, I’ve never really had too many attempts thrown to me or the opportunity to catch so I take pride in catching the ball and being a receiver.”
He’s never had more than 45 catches or 500 yards receiving in a season, and that’s not likely to change this year, either.
But with Peterson set to face the Falcons again on Sunday and his first career game coming against them, it’s a good time to reminisce about all he has accomplished. Certainly there is plenty more out there for him, but it’s a full-circle kind of game as Peterson is now playing for Mike Zimmer, not against him, as he was when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for Falcons under short-lived NFL coach Bobby Petrino in 2007.
On Friday, Peterson didn’t remember that Zimmer was the defensive coordinator then, but Zimmer made sure to tell Peterson on Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – the coach’s thankfulness for the future Hall of Fame back.
“I told him (Friday) how much I appreciated him, everything he does for us. His leadership, the way he comes out here to practice, the way he prepares, really everything. I’m impressed with him, just the way he does things all of the time,” Zimmer said.
Asked if that was in the spirit of Thanksgiving, Zimmer quipped, “No, sometimes I’m nice. I say nice things to guys – it’s not often, but once in a while I do.”
“You forget I played against him for three years (in college), so I absolutely knew that he was that type of back and he definitely didn’t disappoint,” Robison said, a Texas alum who faced Peterson at Oklahoma.
“When you play against a guy like that for three years, you kind of know what person they are, you kind of know what type of player they are, so I knew he was going to be something special. It was just good to be on the some team and I still feel the same way nine years later. I’m glad I’m not playing against him on Sundays.”
Many defenses have tried to stifle Peterson, just like Atlanta’s top-ranked run defense will attempt on Sunday, but he’s kept churning out the records.
Nine of the 10 highest single-game rushing totals in team history belong to Peterson, including the NFL-record 296-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers. Six times Peterson has gone for more than 200 yards, the only Vikings running back to eclipse that mark (Chuck Foreman reach exactly 200 one time) and tying the NFL mark shared with O.J. Simpson. He already has the most combined net yards (rushing, receiving and returning) in franchise history with 13,493.
He also has the second-highest single-season rushing performance with 2,097 in 2012, just 8 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s mark set in 1984.
He is the third-fastest player to reach 11,000 yards and now is just 40 yards shy of Simpson for 20th all-time in the NFL. His 92 rushing touchdowns are also tops among current players and put him in the top 10 in NFL history.
Greenway, the Vikings’ first-round pick the year before Peterson arrived on the NFL scene, saw the special attributes from the first practice.
“I think it was pretty much right away,” the Vikings linebacker said. “When you saw him take a handoff in that first practice in the offseason he was pretty impressive from the get-go.”
By the end of this season, Peterson could have 5,000 more rushing yards than Robert Smith, next on the franchise list with 6,818 yards (Peterson is currently at 11,196).
He has rushed for 100 yards or more 17 times in just one half, including 253 second-half yards in his record-setting performance against the Chargers.
In a player’s first nine seasons, Peterson is top 10 in rushing yards (ninth at 11,196), rushing touchdowns (sixth at 92) and 100-yard rushing games (eighth at 47), despite missing 15 game last year.
Observers often wonder how much longer the 30-year-old can go, pointing to players who have dropped off after turning 30. But there have been plenty of good over-30 running backs, and at 2,262 carries in his career, Peterson is just past halfway to Emmitt Smith’s NFL record 4,409 career carries.
“Everybody talks about his running style and how that wouldn’t work or be able to have a nice, long career,” Greenway said. “But obviously he’s overcome that. He’s just so strong and stays in such great shape and obviously missing last year, I think he got off to a slow start but he’s coming around.”
Yes, he has. Despite a 45-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, Peterson still leads the league with 1,006 yards after 10 games, the only running back to average more than 100 yards per game this season, easily leading the league in carries over 10 yards, average-per-rush after 20 carries in a game (7.0), average-per-carry in the fourth quarter (8.1) and numerous other statistics.
No doubt the Falcons will offer a stiff challenge for Peterson and the running game, but from the time he played his first game – a game he didn’t start, by the way, against the Falcons – to his preparation for his 115th career game, it’s a good time to take in all Peterson has accomplished … and what more is on the horizon.
- Teddy Bridgewater threw for 317 yards and a rushing TD in his first career start last year against Atlanta. He and RB Jerick McKinnon became the first rookies in franchise history to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 100 yards in the same game.
- If the Vikings win, it would be their fourth straight road win, the longest streak for Minnesota since 1998.
- In 1970, the Vikings sacked Atlanta QB Randy Johnson nine times, the most an opposing quarterback has been sacked in Vikings history.
- While the Vikings offensive line has struggled, giving up 31 sacks this season, the Falcons defense has only 12 sacks through 10 games, tied for last in the league.