When Adrian Peterson walks into FedEx Field on Sunday, it will no doubt be an emotional moment for the Vikings’ running back.
The last time he played there, Peterson left the turf seated on a cart, his season – and perhaps his livelihood – in jeopardy. An MRI later revealed the four-time Pro Bowl selection had suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee after a hit from Redskins safety DeJon Gomes.
Injuries such as the one Peterson suffered can often derail a career or, at the very least, diminish productivity. But he beat the odds and returned to the Vikings’ lineup for Week 1 – more than two months sooner than the majority of players who sustain similar ligament tears.
“If you hold your head down during [difficult] situations,” Peterson said on a conference call with Washington area reporters this week, “it doesn’t help the process. It was a little bit tough at home on Christmas [the day after the injury], but I just had to change my mind frame and head in the direction I had set for myself.”
Not only has Peterson recovered faster than most, he’s 95-percent of the player he was prior to the injury, Minnesota Coach Leslie Frazier estimates.
“He’s pretty close,” Frazier said. “If you ask him, he’ll probably say he’s about 5-percent away from being where he needs to be. The runs he’s made the last couple of weeks tells me that he’s real close to being the Adrian that we’re so familiar with.”
Peterson enters Sunday’s game ranked seventh in carries (96) and eighth in rushing yards (420) for a Vikings’ team that’s off to a surprising 4-1 start.
Through the first five games of 2011, Peterson averaged 4.5 yards per carry. The 27-year-old is averaging 4.4 this season.
“He’s still explosive. Still making all the cuts. Still running hard,” Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said.
A year ago, Peterson had already missed three games with an ankle injury when his fifth NFL campaign took a sharp – and painful – turn for the worse in the Vikings’ eventual 33-26 victory over the Redskins. He was carrying the ball into the end zone when Gomes hit him on the side of his knee in the third quarter.
Peterson still looks away when video of the injury is shown on television.
He also said he doesn’t hold a grudge against Gomes.
“I don’t think anything was done intentionally,” Peterson said. “He was just out there playing ball and it happened. I don’t have anything against him.”
Redskins’ safety Madieu Williams, who played alongside Peterson as a member of the Vikings from 2008-2010, said Peterson’s dogged determination is the biggest reason for his remarkable return.
“Knowing the work ethic he has and dedication he has for the game of football,” Williams said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all.”