ATLANTA – The Patriots were preparing for the Bills in Week 8 when coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels approached a certain former Vikings first-round draft pick who stands 6-2, weighs 228 pounds and plays receiver and kick returner.
“They said, ‘Can you play running back?’ ” said Cordarrelle Patterson who, depending on the outcome of the coin toss, could be the first person to touch the football with his hands in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
“I was like, ‘I can play anything y’all need me to play,’ ” Patterson said. “It’s been amazing. It’s just the offensive coordinator and the head coach trusting me and believing in something I can do.”
Patterson lined up in the backfield 10 times in that game. He carried the ball every time for 38 yards in a 25-6 victory.
The next week, he lined up in the backfield 12 more times. He carried the ball 11 times for 61 yards and a touchdown in a 31-17 victory over Green Bay.
Three weeks later, as the Vikings were preparing to play at New England, coach Mike Zimmer admitted the Patriots used Patterson “way better than we did.”
“I heard that,” Patterson said. “I couldn’t really say anything. They had their opportunity to do that. I mean, life goes on. You’d have to ask them why they didn’t do it.”
In 17 games as a first-year Patriot, Patterson has lined up in the backfield 47 times. In 64 games over four years as a Viking, Patterson lined up in the backfield 37 times.
Granted, the Vikings did have a guy named Adrian Peterson. But in 2014, when Peterson was suspended for 15 games, Patterson lined up in the backfield 10 times. And in 2015, when Peterson played in only three games, Patterson lined up in the backfield only three times.
Norv Turner was Vikings offensive coordinator in both of those seasons and through seven games in 2016 before quitting and being replaced by Pat Shurmur. And Norval was not one to bend to Patterson’s contrasting skill set.
Patterson’s great open-field running ability made him a two-time All-Pro kick returner and a three-time league leader in kick return average in his four years with the Vikings. However, he was and still is a rudimentary receiver who was overrated in the draft.
Six seasons later, this is Patterson’s second trip to the playoffs. In 17 games with the Vikings in 2015, he had four touches on offense for 25 yards, including no touches in the wild-card loss to Seattle. This year, however, he has had a career-high 63 touches on offense (42 rushes, 21 receptions).
Ironically, it was Bill Musgrave, the Vikings offensive coordinator so many loved to hate, who got the most out of Patterson. In 2013, Patterson’s first year and Musgrave’s last in Minnesota, Patterson had 57 touches on offense for career highs in total yards (627) and touchdowns (seven). He ran the ball 12 times for 158 yards (13.2) and three touchdowns.
“Every time my number was called, I tried to make the best of it,” Patterson said. “I’m a football player. You always want the ball. But I’m always a happy, smiley guy, so I’m going to keep my head high, whether it’s one play or 30 plays.”
With only three offensive touches for 21 yards in two postseason games this year, Patterson isn’t expected to have an impact in that regard. Then again, New England is the epitome of unpredictability.
As a kick returner, Patterson averaged 28.8 yards with one touchdown on 23 regular-season returns. In the playoffs, he is averaging 25.8 yards on four returns.
“I can’t wait to step on that field,” he said. “This is something you dream about as a kid, but you never really think it will happen.”
He shook his head and called himself “lucky.”
“How many people do you think watch the Super Bowl?” he asked.
Over 100 million, bub.
“Oh, man,” he said. “I’m going to try not to think about it. It’s going to be hard, but I’ll just go out and do what I’ve been doing my whole life to get me here.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org