Adrian Peterson may have surprised some of his doubters with his quest for a third rushing title this year – you know, after most of last year off and turning 30 years old and such – but he is perhaps the least surprised person on the planet.
For Peterson, it’s an expectation, not a pipe dream. Now, with one game left, he’s in position to do that. He has a 64-yard lead on Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and more than a 300-yard lead on anyone else.
“I like turning people into believers, and even if I win people will still doubt me,” Peterson said matter-of-factly. “That’s just the way of life. You have people that believe, you have people that doubt you and say this and that. That’s just the way of the world. You just have to stay in your lane and do what you do.”
Peterson has learned to accept people’s opinion of him, at least publicly, after he was accused of child abuse last year and missed the final 15 games of the 2014 season while navigating the legal and NFL disciplinary process. At this point, his focus is on having his Minnesota Vikings win the NFC North title and winning his third rushing title Sunday night while facing the Green Bay Packers.
If he does that, he will match Earl Campbell with three rushing titles. Peterson grew up about 30 minutes from Campbell’s hometown of Tyler, Texas.
“Definitely knew a lot about him growing up and his running style, and was able to watch and look up film on him as well,” Peterson said. “I get some of my aggressive running style from him and the way that he played the game and what he did at the University of Texas and in his pro career as well.”
Jim Brown has eight NFL rushing titles. Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, O.J. Simpson, Steve Van Buren and Barry Sanders each have four rushing titles, second-best in league history. Next would be Peterson and Campbell.
“It’s not something that I’m trying to focus on too much. Of course, I’m going to go out and I always put my best foot forward,” he said. “And I get a little advantage. I’ll know exactly what I need going into the game. So that’s a perk. But ultimately my mind is winning the NFC (North) title and doing my job and executing on every play that is presented to me.”
Martin and the Buccaneers play the Carolina Panthers in a Sunday late afternoon game, and the Panthers have the league’s fifth-best rushing defense and need a win to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Vikings play the Packers, ranked 21st in rushing defense, on Sunday night.
If Peterson gets the title, which he fully expects, he would be only the third running back to accomplish that at 30 years of age or older (the second on a 16-game schedule). In 2004, Curtin Martin won the title with 1,697 yards with the New York Jets. In 1950, Marion Motley did it at age 30 with Cleveland, rushing for 810 yards.
“I pay attention to it a little bit. I sit back and just how I think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that.’ It’s hard for me to believe, you know? I see myself having the opportunity to win it a couple more years. It’ll be special to join that group.”
Peterson has 1,418 yards rushing this year, so he isn’t likely to set the record for most yards in a season by a running back 30 years or older, but after all he went through last year it would be special for him – even if he expected it all along.
“The eight years I’ve played, actually played full seasons, I’ve always envisioned winning and leading the league in rushing so it wasn’t anything different coming into this season,” he said. “I think people will add more to it because of the things that took place last year and people saying this about my age and so forth. For me, it’s something that I expected to accomplish every year.”