MINNEAPOLIS — Only Adrian Peterson can know the emotions he was dealing with Sunday, playing an NFL game two days after hearing a 2-year-old son had died.
Peterson faced reporters on Friday and said he was going to play Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings. The MVP running back never wavered. He was dealing with his grief in his own way.
“I was set on it,” Peterson said after Minnesota’s 35-10 loss at home to the Carolina Panthers. “I just look at things and I don’t ask people to understand my mindset and how I think. Anything bad, I try to take good from it. That’s the way I approach life in all situations. I never thought about not playing. It was all about just going out there and praying that I have the strength to get through and help my team. That was my focus.”
Peterson had left the team and traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D. after he received word a 2-year-old son of his was in critical condition in the hospital. Police responded to a call Wednesday of a child choking. A man reportedly dating the mother of Peterson’s son, Joseph Robert Patterson, was arrested and charged in connection with the case after the boy was examined by doctors after being taken to the hospital with his injuries consistent with abuse.
The boy later died Friday from head injuries. Peterson asked for privacy regarding the situation, but his father, Nelson, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press the boy was his grandson. Peterson’s relationship with the child has been rumored, but Peterson hasn’t said how close he was to this son. Peterson has another son, Adrian Jr., who lives with him in Texas.
Following Sunday’s loss, Peterson wasn’t in the mood to discuss the personal nature of the events.
“Can we focus on football?” Peterson said. “I’m not really trying to get into details on that. We just got blown out by 23 points. So let’s focus on football and what the Minnesota Vikings can do to get better.”
Returning to the field is what Peterson felt he needed to do though. After missing practice on Thursday to be in Sioux Falls, Peterson returned Friday and vowed to play. The boy died Friday, while Peterson was at practice.
“It’s tough,” Peterson said when learning his son had passed. “It’s a crazy situation. Anytime you lose a child, no matter the circumstances, it hurts. I can’t describe it. But I’ve got a good supporting cast surrounding me.”
Peterson felt the need to be with his teammates, who just tried to support him.
“I can’t imagine, you know, the heavy heart that he had today, being out on the field,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “But he spoke to us right before the game, right before he took the field and said he was going to give it his all, for all four quarters — and that’s exactly what he did.”
Peterson had seen tragedy before. He watched his brother die when he was 7 years old. His father missed part of his childhood years in prison. Before the NFL Combine in 2007, Peterson’s half-brother was killed.
He still participated in the Combine. His sanctuary has been the football field.
“You know, I just prayed and asked God to give me the strength just to get through the game, just play and focus,” Peterson said. “And for the most part, I did. It was a terrible way to lose, but we can learn from this, make some corrections and get back on track.”
Peterson wasn’t as involved in Sunday’s game as he would have hoped. A blowout loss and Carolina controlling the ball for more than 36 minutes kept Peterson on the sideline. He finished with 10 carries for 62 yards and added three catches for 21 yards. He exploded through for one big run, a 31-yarder in the second half.
“I thought he handled it as well as you can,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s a difficult, difficult situation. (There are) a lot of people trying to support him within the organization, his teammates as well. I think for the most part he’s handled it well. It’s tough, really tough.”
Peterson has relied on prayer to overcome the past week’s events. He said he was focused on playing football Sunday and ready to help his team.
When the game was over, Peterson dressed slowly with a throng of TV cameras behind him. Fixing his tie, Peterson closed his eyes for a few minutes. Soon he’d reunite with family, relax, eat and try to put Sunday’s loss behind him. As to the loss of his son, only Peterson knows how he will deal with the toughest loss of the week.
“A couple of hours, relax and get back with the family,” Peterson said when asked what the emotional letdown will be after the game. “Get a good meal in my system, kind of unwind and then get back in the building to work tomorrow. It’s just about being focused, making the best out of your situation. You can do that in any type of situation.”