Allen Park — If it seems like Adrian Peterson has killed the Lions throughout his career, well he has.
With any luck, Sunday’s game against the future Hall of Fame running back could be the last for Detroit. The 34-year-old is hanging on with Washington, serving as a veteran leader for a running back room and team undergoing a major rebuild.
It’s not surprising that Lions coach Matt Patricia spoke highly of the powerful Peterson in the run up to Sunday’s game between Washington (1-9) and Detroit (3-6-1), in which Peterson is expected to play despite missing practices this week with a toe injury.
“He’s been playing a long time at a high level, and he’s taken a lot of hits, and he’s been on the injury report, and he’s taken days off, and he’s done all that. Then on Sunday, he shows up,” Patricia said. “He’s ready to go. I think you expect that out of a guy that’s been doing it consistently for a long time like that.”
During press availability this week, Patricia steered the conversation toward Peterson a couple times, then also spoke glowingly a couple more times when asked about him.
For a coach who fancies himself as an NFL history buff, it was easier to rave about the legendary running back than, say, matters involving his own team.
Despite his advanced age, Patricia said Peterson finds ways to use his experience in his favor. For instance, the coach said the man — known both as "A.P." and "A.D." ("All Day") — excels at making decisions on running lanes at the last possible second, as opposed to younger runners such as teammate Derrius Guice, who make route decisions “at the exchange.”
“His vision is really good right now. He just sees those cuts, and he’s making some pretty explosive decisions right now at the line of scrimmage,” Patricia said. “That’s where you really see a guy like Adrian Peterson who just feels so comfortable kind of getting all the way right there, and then he’s going to make that cut and go. That’s where he becomes really explosive, so that’s kind of the danger part of what he does.”
He's occupying a new role as an elder in the Washington locker room. Interim coach Bill Callahan said he takes advantage of every resource to prepare his body each week, serving as an example for fellow backs Guice, Chris Thompson and Wendell Smallwood.
"in a lot of different ways — in the meeting room, on the field, just his ability to prepare his ability week in and week out through the rigors of the season is really impressive," Callahan said. "His body has taken a lot of banging over the years and the way that he can maintain his physical stamina and conditioning is really impressive.”
Sixth on the all-time rushing list, Peterson racked up his eighth 1,000-yard season last year, tied for sixth-most all-time, one season short of Buffalo’s Frank Gore and two shy of Detroit’s Barry Sanders, whose 10 seasons tie for second behind Emmitt Smith (11).
Over the years, Peterson has become an iconic back for younger generations.
Despite eventually playing at Alabama, Lions running back Bo Scarbrough said he was an Oklahoma fan growing up in Eutaw, Ala.
Justin Rogers and John Niyo discuss Detroit's upcoming road game against lowly Washington, while also talking about the season's biggest disappointments. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
The Sooners came late into Scarbrough’s recruitment when the running back was already deciding on finalists, resulting in a different red and white uniform on Saturdays.
“Adrian Peterson was like my idol,” Scarbrough said. “I patterned my game after him. The way he runs, he runs tough, he runs strong. The way he runs, with that mindset that if you’re in the way, you’re going to get it.”
Peterson’s also caught the ire of Detroit fans, breaking their backs many times as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson took runs for 20 yards or longer 15 times in 14 meetings with the Lions.
Peterson’s 106.4 average rushing yards against the Lions ranks the best of any player who has played Detroit at least four times.
Of non-qualifiers, by the way, O.J. Simpson leads, rushing for 389 yards in two games against Detroit, edging former Lions running back Olandis Gary for the lead after Gary rushed for 185 yards on Christmas Day 1999 for Denver in his one meeting opposite Detroit.
With 46 yards Sunday against Denver, Gore would pass Sanders for third on the all-time rushing list. Peterson isn’t too far behind, needing 1,436 yards to pass the Lions’ great. Up first is Curtis Martin in fifth, 267 yards ahead of Peterson.
Peterson’s all-time numbers would be even more impressive if not for a suspension in 2014 because of child abuse allegations, limiting him to one game that season. Injuries limited him to three games played in 2016.
But he could realistically still one day pass Sanders, a hero to many in Michigan like Peterson was to a young Scarbrough.
With two 100-yard outings in his last five games for Washington, that number could be within reach for a man who has thrilled “football guys” like Patricia so much over the years.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he plays the game,” Patricia said. “Even just turning on the tape this week and watching him and what he’s able to do still at a high level is just pretty amazing. I think it’s similar to like last year with Frank Gore, when we were getting ready for him. You see those guys that have that longevity that sort of ability to keep going.
“It’s so impressive from a coaching standpoint. I would say that he’s so dangerous for us right now.”
Lion killer career
Adrian Peterson has played 14 games against the Lions. Here are his stats:
Per game: 106.4 yards
Per carry: 5.27 yards
Lions at Washington
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Records: Lions 3-6-1; Washington 1-9
Line: Lions by 3.5
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.