Seems logical, but it might be one that ignores the facts about Peterson in the last two openers. It also seemed like Peterson either wanted to ignore the stats or just wasn’t aware of them.
“It was a struggle?” he questioned when asked about, well, his struggles in recent season openers.
Well, yes, it was. At least the averages would indicate that.
In his first seven seasons, Peterson never averaged less than 4.5 yards per carry in the regular-season opener. In 2014, his only game in a suspension-shortened season, Peterson averaged 3.6 yards per carry against the St. Louis Rams in the opener. Last year, he averaged only 3.1 yards per carry in a surprisingly flat performance by the entire Vikings team in the opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
On Sunday, the pressure may be on Peterson even more.
After Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Aug. 30, the Vikings are expected to start Shaun Hill at quarterback against the Tennessee Titans. His 36-year-old arm is nowhere near as capable of Bridgewater’s as pushing the ball 50 yards downfield and keeping defenses honest, or even having the zip on out routes to stretch the field horizontally without risk.
Mike Zimmer expects the Titans to crowd the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop Peterson. Norv Turner expects the same. Peterson, meanwhile, says there is no additional pressure for him to shoulder the offensive load.
“No. Not at all. Any time I go into a season or a game, I want to be that guy that’s a difference-maker,” he said. “That won’t change.”
That’s true. Peterson has been the focal point of the offense nearly every season he has played for the Vikings. The exceptions might be in 2009 during Brett Favre’s statistically best season as a pro, and 2014, when Peterson played in only the season opener before suspension and legal issues took away his professional passion.
Although Peterson always preaches patience as an easier-said-than-executed key for his running style, it might be even harder for him this year, especially early. Expectations were raised that the Vikings could be a Super Bowl contender this year, and then Bridgewater’s injury happened. Peterson certainly won’t want to let that derail his career-long aspiration to taste the Super Bowl pinnacle.
Patience, at age 31 and in his 10th NFL season, has to be hard to achieve, especially in a season opener when he hasn’t been in a game situation since a crushing playoff loss on Jan. 10.
“It can be. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but mentally you just have to get your mind right, like, ‘Hey, on certain plays you have to be more patient,’” he said. “Certain run designs call for you to be more patient, so I’ve been doing that, getting my mind ready for all that this week.”
The Titans were most vulnerable against interior runs last year, giving up 4.49 yards per rush up the middle and 4.16 yards on runs over the right guard.
When Peterson finally gets that first handoff in eight months and one day, he will be trying to undo what the statistics say about his recent season openers. He says he has learned from them.
“I can base it off last year. I definitely wasn’t in shape. I was in great shape, don’t get me wrong, but there’s things you have to do throughout the year to keep your body and your legs fresh,” he said, “and like I said, last year, I kind of took off and was letting the body rest and really wasn’t getting my conditioning in. So that’s the big difference going into this week. My legs are fresh. I’m making sure that I get my conditioning in, so I’ll be able to run all day.”
It was a clever play on words, or course, with Peterson’s “All Day” nickname.
Now we’ll have to see if Peterson can be as clever with his play on the field in a regular-season opener that will likely have him giddy for contact and out to prove that Bridgewater’s injury doesn’t mean the end of the Vikings’ Super Bowl dreams.
* Zimmer has lost just one preseason game in 13 attempts as head coach of the Vikings. He has lost one regular-season opener in two attempts. As a franchise, the Vikings are 30-24-1 on opening days.
* Throwback time? The only other time the Vikings played the Titans – in this case, their Houston Oilers predecessors – in the season opener was in 1989, when Minnesota won 38-7 at the Metrodome.
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* As a few players around the league try to bring aware to social issues in the United States, led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting and then kneeling for the national anthem during preseason games, a few Vikings players and staff polled say they know of no such plans for any of their teammates.
“Not to my knowledge. There better not be,” defensive end Brian Robison said.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph also said he didn’t know of any teammates that planned anything other than standing for the national anthem, but both he and Robison acknowledged players have the right to not stand for the anthem.
“Obviously that’s the beautiful thing about our country. Everyone has the right to their opinion. I don’t agree with the way they’re going about it. Obviously this country is not perfect. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed,” Rudolph said. “As athletes, we have a platform to fix that so something definitely needs to be done, but I don’t agree with the way they’re doing it. Our flag and our national anthem, there’s a reason why, when they play it in the stadium, they ask you to stand and remove your hats. It’s out of respect for everyone that serves and allow us to play this game and allow us the platform to make a change. You pay your respects to those people. If you want to make a change, there’s other ways to make a change.”
Robison said he isn’t sure how he would react if a teammate didn’t stand for the national anthem, but Rudolph said he would tell the teammate what he told me on Friday – that’s their right but he doesn’t agree with that method to make a point.
“I’m proud to be an American so I’m always going to stand up for this country and stand up when the national anthem is playing, when that flag is flying,” Robison said. “That’s my home.”
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* Players and coaches alike viewed the acquisition of quarterback Sam Bradford – especially with the price tag of a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round – as a vote of confidence from the front office about what can still be accomplished this year.
“I think the veteran guys appreciate the fact that management went out and tried to do whatever we can do to help win,” Zimmer said. “I think that showed that they have confidence in this football team. I don’t know that necessarily the mood changes, but they feel like they’re trying to give us the very best opportunity we can to win.
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