Just like last year, Adrian Peterson is almost back leading the NFL.
This one, however, isn’t a statistic in which Peterson wants to defend his title.
Peterson led the NFL with 47 “stuffs” last year – runs of zero or negative yardage. He’s on pace to break that mark after a season-opening win in which the Minnesota Vikings running back was held to 31 yards on 19 carries.
“It’s a tale of two halves for our team (Sunday), and really I thought our defense was pretty sound for the whole game,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said after losing 25-16. “The objective was to stop Adrian Peterson and I think they did that, and he’s a great back.”
Peterson led the NFL with 1,485 yards rushing last year – even after rushing for 31 yards in the 2015 season opener, too, showing he is still a “great back.” But the Titans were committed to stopping and stuffing the run, and they did.
Peterson’s longest run was 9 yards. He averaged 1.6 yards per carry. And five of his 19 carries were dropped for losses.
“On first downs, the guys were shooting the gaps. I got stacked in the box,” Peterson said. “It is what we expected, but they did a good job of playing the gaps.”
They did. There were a few opportunities that Peterson missed to either cut back a run or simply chose the wrong gap when another nearby one was open for a bigger gain.
But with 36-year-old quarterback Shaun Hill getting the start for the Vikings, the Titans didn’t have much fear that Hill would beat them over the top.
That put the onus on Peterson, like it or not.
“I knew that we would run the ball. Today it was those two and three yards — those tough yards to keep the chain moving and get those guys in, then hit them over the top with a big pass,” Peterson said. “I felt like we did pretty good at times. We just have to do a better job of being more efficient in the red zone and coming out with seven.”
The Vikings were 0-for-3 in the red zone scoring touchdowns, but with the Titans intent on stuffing Peterson, Hill did a decent job of taking advantage. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards. He connected on three passes that went more than 20 yards, and six that went more than 15 yards.
“My role is still to be the quarterback. These games are funny. You never know how it’s going to play out; you really don’t,” Hill said. “You just have to stay persistent the whole time and you know at some point something is going to give, and we did that for sure.”
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The two touchdowns the Vikings scored came from the defense, with Peterson saying it “bailed out” the offense. Eric Kendricks returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown and Danielle Hunter returned a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown.
With QB Teddy Bridgewater out for the season with a knee injury, Peterson was expected to be the focal point of the offense and the Titans certainly made him the focal point of their defense.
“Man, it was one of the old-school type games out there. Just that they had a big bruiser there in number 28, a Hall of Famer in my eyes, and I love the way he runs,” Titans LB Brian Orakpo said. “I love what he brings to the game with his running style.”
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Next up? The Vikings face the Green Bay Packers, who thrust Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon ahead of Peterson with six runs that were stuffed.
Peterson said the film should be instructive for the Vikings, but getting the win was the most important thing.
“Anytime you can come off the field with a W,” he said, “you have to be happy about it.”