Vikings 2013 Preview

Vikings’ Peterson relishes the thrill of the chase

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2013 - 8:58 AM

Adrian Peterson is coming off the most brilliant season of his six-year career, a 2,097-yard effort through opponents. And he's far from satisfied.

Illustration by Robert Carter, special to the Star Tribune

Others have twisted the star running back’s words and cast the 2,500-yard milestone as a Peterson promise. It has never been that.

But, folks, you’re getting it all wrong. Sure, Peterson truly believes he can dart, cut and maul his way to those 2,500 yards. Yet from the start, it’s never been about the number itself.

For Peterson, it’s always been far more about the ambition needed to get there.

That’s the reason Peterson pitched 2,500 for the first time last January and why he hasn’t backed away since. It’s a new challenge.

“Listen,” Peterson said. “If I don’t hear that number mentioned to me again, I’ll be all good. … People hear that 2,500 and it’s ‘Oh wow. That’s not possible. What was he thinking?’ They kind of focus on [the number] too much. In my mind, I’m not looking at it like that at all.”

Coming off the most brilliant season of his six-year career, a 2,097-yard blitzkrieg that added the letters M, V and P to his résumé, Peterson continues plowing through the human nature tendency to be satisfied with his superhuman push to raise the bar.

Last season’s surprise accomplishments? Celebrating that success, Peterson believes, will be fruitless if it’s not also used as a springboard to something greater.

Those 10 Vikings victories from a year ago, a total no one foresaw? More can be had.

An unexpected trip into the playoffs? That ended far too early, 29 days before the Lombardi Trophy was handed to the Baltimore Ravens.

Peterson’s own 2,097 yards, all of them coming within a span of 365 days after he underwent career-threatening surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee? What an amazing run it was. But imagine if he had been fully healthy from the start of the season. Imagine if Peterson had turned only five or six more 4-yard gains into 60-yard scores.

Imagine the possibilities.

Which, of course, includes this new pursuit of 2,500. As in yards. As in an alluring subplot to an intriguing Vikings season.

As a flow of “2,500” questions came the Vikings’ way during training camp in Mankato, coach Leslie Frazier was asked if it ever can be harmful to a team when players set grand individual goals.

“Guys in general is one thing,” Frazier said. “Adrian Peterson is another. When Adrian says 2,500 or 2,000, it’s a different thing. It’s a different matter. Because he’s more than capable of achieving those goals. I’ve learned that.

“When he told me last season that he was going to have the type of year that he did have and for it to turn out the way it did, I don’t doubt Adrian Peterson. If he says he can gain 2,500, it’s possible. If it was someone else talking about predictions and this or that, maybe we’ll have a conversation. But Adrian? Nah. I like to see him achieve his goals.”

Besides, Peterson’s ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. And the Vikings understand that to reach that pinnacle, they’ll need their best player to have a huge impact.

Through six seasons, Peterson has played in only four playoff games, winning once. He’s 28 years old now, and the window to fully capitalize on his brilliance likely is closing for the Vikings quicker than anyone would care to acknowledge.

The last running back to claim the MVP trophy? LaDainian Tomlinson, who coincidentally was 27 when he delivered an explosion in 2006 that included 2,323 total yards and 31 touchdowns. Tomlinson enjoyed only two more 1,000-yard rushing seasons thereafter and faded into the background.

Tick …

In 2005, Shaun Alexander rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns on his way to MVP honors. Over the next three seasons, Alexander totaled 1,636 rushing yards and 11 scores, playing his final game with the Redskins in 2008.

Tock …

Still, while Peterson will field all questions about his 2,500-yard goal, he’s less eager to dive into the curiosity about his longevity, not wanting to admit that the older he gets, the closer to ordinary his running will become.

“I feel like me not realizing that helps me,” Peterson said. “Me not thinking about, ‘Well, my clock is starting to tick, getting older and older.’ That’s not doing nothing but hurting me. So I’m thinking in my mind that each year I’m getting younger. Any way I can look at it with the most positive view that’s going to help me, that’s the way I’m looking at it.”

 

• • •

 

For those still fixated on the number and wondering if 2,500 yards is possible, let it be known Peterson would have to average 156.25 yards per game to accomplish that feat. Ridiculous, right?

Then again, in the final eight games last season he averaged 165.25, churning up 199 yards in a playoff-clinching season-finale victory over Green Bay.

Down the stretch, he also played through a painful sports hernia that cut deeply into his practice time for half of November and all of December.

So while skeptics might roll their eyes, Peterson’s tone can be convincing.

Said right guard Brandon Fusco: “If Adrian says 2,500, we have to do it. Whatever the guy says, we think it’s a challenge we can accomplish.”

Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton agrees, convinced that even though Peterson was at his best in 2012, he can be even greater in 2013.

“I think most people think that, oh, that was just a freak season. He’s not going to do that again,” Felton said. “And I get that. But if you break down the entire season, those first eight games he wasn’t the full Adrian Peterson. Each week, you could feel him getting closer and closer to top form. … I honestly feel like he can get 2,000-plus.”

Still, to get lost in the numeral is to miss the message. And for this year’s Vikings, Peterson’s example of setting lofty goals and then diving fearlessly into the work needed to attack them has proved infectious, raising the bar for the entire team.

“Even the years he didn’t have 2,000 yards, the guy was an animal,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “He’s a superstar in this league yet is very humble around the locker room. He does what he’s supposed to do. And he genuinely wants to win football games. That’s his impact on this team. You have the guy who’s the reigning MVP, and he’s out busting it in the little drills and he’s engaged in meetings and never complaining about things. Who’s going to say anything? No one else is the MVP, right? And he’s doing everything. So a young guy just shuts his mouth and does what he’s supposed to do.”

Ultimately, the Vikings probably don’t want Peterson to chase down 2,500 yards, craving far more passing potency and offensive balance. Those are prerequisites for a 2012 playoff team to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But there also will be no push to temper the MVP’s ambition.

The number, after all, must be viewed through the proper lens.

“People are trying to shoot me down because they don’t want to challenge themselves in any way,” Peterson said. “This is the way I’ve been successful — challenging myself and setting goals and high expectations.”

Added Frazier: “What that does is, it permeates through the rest of your team. When they see how driven Adrian he is and how selfless he remains, it pushes everybody.”

In the end, for Peterson, that’s all it’s really about.

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