The Vikings expected Adrian Peterson to be their driving force upon his return from injured reserve.
“We had high hopes,” left guard Alex Boone said. “I was so juiced to have him back.”
But things changed quickly Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium. By Peterson’s sixth snap, the Vikings trailed the Indianapolis Colts 17-0. By his eighth snap, Peterson had fumbled in the red zone on just his fourth carry. Nine plays later, the Colts led 24-0 en route to a 34-6 beatdown.
“All of a sudden, it’s, ‘Now we got to throw the ball,’ ” Boone said. “We couldn’t even get into a run formation.”
Instead of the driving force, Peterson looked more like an anchor attached to the team’s shaky playoff chances. A flat offense left interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur unable to walk the delicate line between feeding Peterson the carries that his self-proclaimed “famine, famine, feast” style of play requires and producing enough first downs to keep the offense from stagnating and taking an overworked defense down the drain with it.
At halftime, the Colts had 21 first downs.
“Twenty-one?!” said cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Yes. And the NFL record for a game is 40.
The Colts also led in yards, 281-69, and time of possession, 23:32-6:28.
“What?!” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “Twenty-three-and-a-half minutes? Is that a record? That’s embarrassing for the defense.”
Yes, but the offense had only two first downs in the first half. Two.
“But that doesn’t have anything to do with our defense,” Munnerlyn said. “C’mon, man. That’s embarrassing, bro. They had the ball for 23 ½ minutes and we only had it for 6 ½? That’s embarrassing.”
No one gets off the hook after a game as ugly as the one the Vikings played on Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer’s first three words after the game were, “Very poor. Lethargic.” He could have walked away after that because nothing else needed to be said.
But clearly Peterson coming back after missing 11 games because of a torn meniscus had a reverse effect by playing to the Colts’ favor. With Peterson trying unsuccessfully to find his 31-year-old legs, Colts 33-year-old running back Frank Gore had 18 first-half carries on his way to 101 yards on 26 carries.
“It’s disappointing, especially with the fumble at a critical point — down 17 and entering into the red zone. … I didn’t imagine it going this way today,” Peterson said.
Peterson said he was 100 percent healthy. He didn’t appear to have his usual burst, but, then again, he got only six carries for 22 yards, sat out most of the second half and was playing behind a decimated line that was using its seventh different lineup in 14 games.
The Vikings’ first three possessions included two three-and-outs and a four-play drive that also ended with a punt. Peterson had three carries for 3 yards. The next two possessions were turnovers.
“You do that,” said Boone, “and it’s not going to be a good game for anybody.”
Peterson was asked if it’s too much of a challenge early on in games to get him and this offense in sync.
“I don’t think it’s challenging,” he said. “It’s about every guy doing their job and being productive when those opportunities come in the run game. I feel like there were some things I could have done better. I’m sure the offensive line feels the same. And passing the ball as well.”
Peterson was asked if he’ll play next week in Green Bay. He said yes. When asked if he’ll definitely play in the regular-season finale the following week, he said, “I’m not going to jump ahead to two weeks. I’m just going to look forward to this week.”
Unfortunately for the Vikings, the question isn’t whether Peterson will play the final two games. The question is whether the greatest running back in franchise history can be a benefit rather than a burden to an injury-riddled offense that is much more conducive to his “famine, famine” than his “feast.”