Workhorse Peterson still running like thoroughbred

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Some year, he’ll slow down.

Well, presumably.

Adrian Peterson turns 31 in March. It’s all but natural law NFL running backs sashay into the sunset at age 30, if not well before.

But here he is again in 2015 as his Vikings team readies for a trip to Ford Field and a Sunday game against the Lions. Peterson is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, 8.9 per pass catch.

He had 134 yards against the Lions in Week 2 at Minnesota.

Isn’t it about time this guy showed some gray and lost a step?

“When you look at him, he’s a unique athlete in terms of size and speed, the way he’s taken care of himself, and that he never seems to be nicked up,” said Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, speaking about Peterson on Thursday.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. I just think the guy’s a tremendous ballplayer. A first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

Glover Quin draws an analogy when describing Peterson. It has to do with imagery from another sport, or what in some cultures is considered sport.

“Imagine being in that ring and that bull breaks out,” the Lions safety said. “You’ve got to try and tackle him, and he’s trying to go eat or something.

“It ain’t fun.”

Of course, Peterson’s quasi-mortal ways have their limits. Sometimes opposing defensive fronts decide they won’t cooperate. This happened to have been the case Sunday in a game against the Chiefs at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Peterson ran for a full shift, 26 carries, and gained all of 60 yards.

Not that it bothered a certain Vikings runner.

“It was a fun game,” Peterson said during a midweek media conference. “Maybe not what the fans wanted, but for me it was satisfying. Those three, four yards, pounding those guys (Chiefs) allowed us to be more productive in the pass game and get the W.”

Compared with last weekend’s hard labor against the Chiefs, Peterson last month against the Lions had three more carries (29) and banked an extra 74 yards.

It’s an unhappy memory held by Lions defenders, particularly those up front.

“When he has the ball, he can make so many things happen,” linebacker Darryl Tapp said as he sat at his locker mulling an extraordinary runner. “No offense to (Vikings quarterback) Teddy Bridgewater, but he’s still the guy that makes that engine go. We all understand it goes through (No.) 28.”

Ironically, the Lions wonder if Peterson might have gotten something of a break during his 2014 nightmare. Peterson was suspended for domestic violence and played in one game.

Not everyone was sure that cobwebs hadn’t collected as a man approaching 30 sat for 90 percent-plus of an NFL schedule. And after a 31-yard (10 carries) opener against the 49ers, thoughts grew that maybe, just maybe, Peterson was beginning to drag following a year in which he had been all but shelved.

But apart from the 49ers and Chiefs each cornering him, Peterson this season has been vintage. In three consecutive games his yards-per-carry average were 4.6 (Lions), 6.3 (Chargers) and 5.1 (Broncos).

It should be noted he also had a pair of pass-grabs against the Lions that were good for 58 yards.

Did that turbulent 2014 in fact give a battered star a break, physically?

“He had a year off,” said Tapp, who tends to think Peterson and his longevity might have benefited. “He’s acting like he’s still fresh.

“He’s not always going to run over you. He still runs a 4.4.”

Quin agreed Peterson’s uninvited vacation probably helped. Peterson, that is.

“Definitely,” Quin said.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t disagree. He talked about the trend away from yesteryear’s habit of sticking the ball in a NFL back’s hands and riding him like a Kentucky Derby horse for four quarters.

“At some point over time, you’re going to have some issues,” Caldwell said, warming up for his Peterson tribute. “It’s very difficult for a running back to make it through all those games.

“But he (Peterson) is a special guy. You look at the actuary numbers and you can determine at what point backs may lose some of their power and speed.

“He’s been rare for a long time.”

The Lions know it as well as any team. They hope they can avoid an unnecessary reminder Sunday.