TEMPE, Ariz. – Patrick Peterson is still trying to make a name for himself in the NFL. And the Cardinals’ second-year cornerback has no problem lobbying on his own behalf.
When asked Friday about the challenge of facing Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson, who leads the NFL with 1,546 yards and is chasing Jerry Rice’s single-season NFL record, Peterson took what some might consider an unwise approach.
“I think, honestly, this game is going to fall right into my hands,” he said. “Lately, I’ve been guarding those receivers that like to run away from you. Calvin, he likes the physicality of a cornerback coming up to the line of scrimmage and pressing him. That’s what I’m going to do all game. Hopefully I can get my hands on a couple of (footballs).”
Peterson understands that some might perceive this as cockiness. But there’s a method to his madness.
“I believe it’s going to be a huge measuring stick for me,” he said. “Statistically, he’s the No. 1 receiver in the NFL right now. The guy’s phenomenal. I’m trying to get to that point where I can be recognized in the league as one of the best corners in the game.”
Coaches generally eschew bulletin-board material in advance of games. It’s debatable whether this even rises to that level, but Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton doesn’t have an issue with Peterson’s statements.
“They’re the ones that have to back it up,” Horton said. “I’m encouraging him to be bold and to be assertive. If he believes that and he wants to say it, I’m sure everybody else will try to co-sign that check for him.”
Besides, Horton agrees with Peterson.
“Patrick’s ready for this guy,” he said. “It’s very important for him to prove his elite status.”
To some degree, Peterson has already done that. When asked if there was anyone who had played well in the Cardinals’ record-setting 58-0 loss last week in Seattle, Horton mentioned only Peterson.
“He’s dialed into what he’s supposed to be doing,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “For the most part this year, he’s been one of our more consistent players. When he’s one of your better players, too – a young leader – that’s what gets you excited about the team and going forward.”
It’s already standard that Peterson defends the other team’s top receiver. He’ll draw that assignment again next week when big, physical Chicago Bears wideout Brandon Marshall – the NFL’s second-leading receiver — comes to town.
By no means does Peterson consider himself a fully polished product in his second season, but consider where he is in his development compared to 2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming, who can’t get on the field even though he’s healthy.
“I need him to grow up, be mature and be a professional, and in my opinion he’s not at that point yet,” Horton said of the rookie corner. “He was spectacular early in the year. He probably thought, ‘There’s nothing to this league. I don’t have to prepare. I don’t have to study. I don’t have to challenge myself.’ And you really do every day or you get run by.”
That’s where Peterson has pleased the coaching staff on a daily basis. Despite his lofty status as the No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft, Peterson never rests on his reputation as he strives for more consistency.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “Consistency is definitely something you’ve got to have in this league.”
It’s a common storyline to make mountains out of statements like Peterson’s – to pretend that it adds to the motivation level of an opponent. But when a player has reached Johnson’s level of play, that’s more fiction than fact.
“To me, I’ve got a job to do,” Johnson told CBSSports.com. “It’s not ‘facing (Peterson); it’s how well I can do my job for 60 minutes. That’s my opposition right there.
“He’s a talented player,” Johnson added of Peterson, “but I’m not in the business of judging if he’s (the NFL’s best corner) or if he’s not.”
Peterson is hoping to change Johnson’s mind.
“At then end of the day, that’s what I play this game for — to be the best at my position and for Super Bowls,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”