Adrian Peterson's "vision" continues to be that he will return to the Vikings backfield in time to rally the reeling team back into playoff position.
But if the Vikings are eliminated from contention before he is cleared by doctors? He said he wouldn't return this season "for obvious reasons."
In his first public comments since Sept. 22 surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Peterson declined Wednesday to share the specific target date for his return. But he remains hopeful that the Vikings, who at 6-6 are eighth in the NFC, still will be in the playoff hunt whenever that may be.
"That's what I believe, and that's what I have my eyes on right now," he said.
Cleared to run again within the past two weeks, the 31-year-old says he is now able to "cut and do things like that." But he noted that it is a lot easier to juke air than it is to avoid actual defenders who are trying to tackle him.
"I'm doing things now that I can do to put me in position to be able to come back," the seven-time Pro Bowler said. "That's all I can control as of now."
Since getting hurt in the Week 2 victory over the Green Bay Packers and having surgery a few days later, Peterson and the Vikings had been hoping that he would be able to return to action in mid-to-late December. Peterson presumably will need to practice with the team before suiting up in a game.
The running back declined to say whether he is eyeing a return Week 15 against Indianapolis, Week 16 at Green Bay or Week 17 against Chicago.
"I'm going to keep that among just the coaches and the training staff right now," he said. "I'm just focusing on getting my body ready and conditioning and getting back to doing the things that I would have to do on the football field."
Most injury experts estimated that Peterson would need at least three months for the meniscus to heal after surgery. If Peterson returns before it is completely healed, there is an increased risk for re-injury and long-term implications of tearing the meniscus again include arthritis in his knee.
Peterson, though, said mentally he felt ready to return six weeks ago.
"Yeah, God really has blessed me to be able to heal a lot faster than others. You guys seen that in 2012 with the ACL," said Peterson, who in 2012 won the rushing title and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player after a major injury to his left knee late in 2011. "With this injury, it has been the same."
But Peterson's statement that he won't play at less than full health if the Vikings are out of the playoff mix suggests that he realizes that he has a lot at stake, both in the coming months and perhaps in his life after football.
Peterson is scheduled to have a salary cap number of $18 million in 2017. But none of the money in final year of his contract is guaranteed. So if Peterson were to reinjure his knee rushing back this season, the Vikings could simply move on from him this winter with no financial repercussions.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that there are no other factors beyond Peterson's health that could dictate whether the Vikings activate Peterson from injured reserve. He also declined to give a timetable for a decision.
"The guys that are out here, I'm trying to coach the best I can," Zimmer said. "And when he comes out, I'll try to coach him the best, whenever that is."
In the two games before tearing his meniscus, Peterson averaged 1.6 yards per carry and did not find the end zone. However, the Vikings have not fared much better running behind an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries. They rank last in the NFL in both rushing yards and yards per carry.
Peterson was asked Wednesday about all the injuries the team has suffered on offense this season, including the loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and three offensive tackles joining Peterson on injured reserve.
"You can't control what happens. It's all about how you respond to things," he said. "When adversity hits, I choose to respond instead of running away. That has played out well for me. I'm just trying to continue that pattern."
Unless, of course, the Vikings have nothing left to play for in a couple of weeks.