The Denver Broncos went into Week 4 last year as the only team in NFL history to start 3-0 and not reach 70 yards rushing in a game.
Then a squatty, deceptively fast running back named Ronnie Hillman broke that streak with one 72-yard toss sweep for a touchdown in the second quarter of a victory over the visiting Vikings.
“I turned the corner and I seen green,” Hillman said Wednesday, his first day as a Viking. “That’s pretty much it. I know one of the safeties [Robert Blanton] took a bad angle and kind of helped me out a little bit.”
Now, Hillman and the Vikings are going to be helping each other out. Adrian Peterson will undergo surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee on Thursday and could miss anywhere from three weeks to the entire season, coach Mike Zimmer said.
Hillman, 25, will start out as the No. 3 running back behind starter Jerick McKinnon and backup Matt Asiata, whose strengths are short yardage and pass protection.
“I’m just learning the plays,” Hillman said. “My head’s kind of spinning hearing the new plays. But it feels good to be able to go out there and prove yourself again. I got a chip put back on my shoulder a little bit from Denver.”
Hillman was Denver’s third-round draft pick in 2012. He has started 14 of 48 games, including 10 last year when he had career highs for rushing yards (863) and touchdowns (seven).
Hillman re-signed in April for one year at $2 million. But with no special teams value, the Broncos dumped him on Sept. 3 in favor of keeping rookie fourth-round draft pick Devontae Booker and third-year player Kapri Bibbs as backups to C.J. Anderson.
Hillman took the roster spot vacated when left tackle Matt Kalil (hip) was placed on injured reserve.
Rhodes returns, Floyd sits
At least the Vikings got one good bit of injury news when their top cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, returned to practice for the first time since before the regular season began. Rhodes, who missed the first two games because of a knee injury, was listed as limited on the injury report for the fully-padded practice.
Tight end MyCole Pruitt, who also missed the first two games because of a knee injury, also returned to practice and was limited. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who missed Sunday’s game because of a knee injury, did not practice.
Also limited were tight end Kyle Rudolph (groin), defensive end Danielle Hunter (knee) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (ankle).
• The last time Hillman faced the Panthers was seven months ago when he had five carries for zero yards in Denver’s 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50. He is one of three Vikings players with a Super Bowl ring. The others are Linval Joseph and Justin Trattou with the Giants in the 2011 season. Three coaches have rings: Zimmer (Cowboys), offensive coordinator Norv Turner (Cowboys) and Adam Zimmer (Saints).
• Stefon Diggs was the NFC offensive player of the week after his nine-catch, 182-yard performance against the Packers.