Adrian Peterson stood in the locker room and promised to fix his fumbling problems after coughing up the football in a crushing playoff loss.
“The way I run, the ball kind of gets loose,” he said. “I have to be more conscious of keeping the ball high when I’m going down. Those are some little things I’ll definitely look to correct this offseason.”
Peterson gave that declaration after he fumbled twice and botched a handoff in a loss to the New Orleans Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
Now fast forward to this week. Peterson once again vowed to address that issue after his fourth-quarter fumble led to a field goal and the final points in a 10-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game.
“The first thing that comes to mind is making sure that I put an emphasis on protecting the ball,” Peterson said. “That’s going to be my No. 1 objective this offseason.”
If he’s truly serious about fixing a significant flaw in his game, Peterson will attack the problem with the same determination as previous challenges.
This can’t be something that stings now but fades over the coming weeks without any meaningful attempt to correct whatever is causing his fumblitis.
Peterson is hurting his team — most notably in two playoff games — and staining his legacy, which matters dearly to him.
Peterson has led all running backs in fumbles since entering the league in 2007, which looks even worse since he essentially missed the entire 2014 season on suspension.
He has fumbled 38 times in his career, six more than Frank Gore since ’07.
To be fair, Peterson gets more carries than many of his peers, so he has more opportunities to fumble. But he also fumbles at a higher rate per carry than Gore or Marshawn Lynch.
Peterson fumbled 20 times total his first three seasons. He fumbled eight times this season, losing four of them, none more costly than his last one.
He basically admitted that he treated his fumbles indifferently this season, focusing more on how many fumbles he lost, which is nothing more than a product of lucky bounces.
Peterson is a future Hall of Famer, but his lapses in ball security create anxiety in close games and pressure moments.
He had a nightmarish time holding the ball in the ’09 NFC title game.
He nearly fumbled a second time against the Seahawks in the fourth quarter last week. The Vikings had to be holding their breath every time he touched the ball after that. Who didn’t trust Jerick McKinnon more than Peterson at that point?
That’s not how it should be for a franchise player.
Peterson returned the offseason after the ’09 playoff loss and blamed his fumbles on “mental” mistakes. His fumble rate decreased for a few seasons before becoming an issue again.
He needs to commit himself to solving this issue, as best he can.
One of the great mysteries of Peterson’s career is how someone with a legendary hand grip can struggle to hold on to a football. That’s like Bill Gates bouncing a check.
“It’s not strength, it’s mechanical,” said former NFL running back Tiki Barber, now co-host of “Tiki and Tierney” on CBS Sports Radio. “That means it’s fixable.”
Barber speaks from experience. He fumbled a lot early in his career, to the point that he became a liability. He fumbled 35 times in a four-year span for the New York Giants.
At age 29, he overhauled his entire technique, resulting in only nine fumbles total his final three seasons.
Barber changed the way he held the ball, carrying it high and tight vertical to his body, forming what he described as an “X” in how he covered the ball.
“It takes a long time to make an action a habit,” he said. “But if you have the right reinforcement and you do it enough, it becomes a habit.”
Barber admits change can be hard for veterans, especially if they have experienced success doing things a certain way. But change is necessary if something negative remains a recurring theme.
Barber’s motivation stemmed from professional pride and a blunt talk with Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who told him that he wouldn’t play if he continued to fumble.
Peterson isn’t in danger of losing his job, but he can’t ignore the obvious problem that exists.
“When you know something is wrong,” Barber said, “you’ve got to go fix it.”
Barber perfected his new technique during an offseason. He carried a football when he ran on a treadmill and did agility drills. And Coughlin rode him relentlessly about ball security.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sounded like he won’t allow Peterson to slide, either.
“Trust me,” he said, “I’m going to stay on his rear end about it as well.”
Good. That’s a start. Peterson won’t be able to eliminate fumbles entirely, but he can work to reduce their frequency.
He’s not too old to fix a flaw that continues to hurt him and his team.