EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson will walk back into FedEx Field in Washington on Sunday, less than 10 months after the major knee surgery that at one time led many to question whether the Minnesota Vikings’ star running back would ever be the same.
It was Dec. 24 last year when Peterson’s left foot stuck in the turf and Redskins safety DeJon Gomes lowered his head and put his helmet directly into the side of Peterson’s left knee. Peterson, the highest-paid running back in the league and a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first four seasons, collapsed to the ground face-first in a moment that had the Vikings holding their collective breath.
Peterson was helped off the field, then carted off the sideline. An MRI revealed the biggest fear; he had torn the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee and had some meniscus damage. Ahead was a grueling process that even the most optimistic of timelines wouldn’t have forecast Peterson being close to his usual form as Minnesota (4-1) heads back to Washington (2-3) on Sunday.
Returning to the scene of the injury isn’t lost on Peterson.
“A little bit, of course it pops in your mind,” Peterson said Thursday. “But outside of that, I’m just focusing on executing the offense as a whole and in all three phases and coming out with a win.”
That Peterson is back to worrying about wins is telling. In his mind, he’s over any issues with his knee. Those doubts were erased early on as he pushed through an intensive rehab to return to the practice field in training camp. Though he didn’t play in the preseason, he was ready, as promised, for the first regular-season game this year.
He debuted in the opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars and added to his amazing return by rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries and scoring two touchdowns in a Vikings win. Through five weeks, all starts by Peterson, he ranks eighth in the league with 420 yards rushing. His 96 carries are surpassed by only six players.
Still, even some of his coaches didn’t think Peterson would be back in time for this week’s game at Washington.
“No, definitely not, just amazing,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “It’s amazing the progress he’s made and how hard he’s worked.”
Peterson joked that he welcomes the chance to run over Gomes, a backup safety for Washington, but he doesn’t harbor any personal grudges. Any revenge factor is minute.
“Maybe a little bit,” Peterson said. “But nothing that’s just overwhelming and really that personal.”
Peterson said he’s seen the video of the play a couple of times by happenstance but hasn’t tried to watch reruns specifically.
“I don’t like seeing it,” he said.
Peterson doesn’t need to. He can replay the situation in his mind, laying on the turf knowing he was dealing with a bad knee injury. Peterson was “99.9” percent sure the ACL was involved.
“I felt three pops and just the way may leg bent, I knew it was messed up pretty bad,” Peterson said.
The coach on the other sideline that day, Washington’s Mike Shanahan, also knew what was ahead for Peterson. Shanahan was the Denver Broncos coach when running back Terrell Davis helped his team to a pair of Super Bowl wins and appeared on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
But in 1999, Davis tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee while trying to make a tackle following an interception. Davis ended up returning but was never the same. He was plagued by more leg and knee problems and underwent more surgeries before retiring in 2000. He played just five more NFL games following the initial knee injury.
“With Terrell, he never felt comfortable,” Shanahan said. “I think everybody was just hoping that Adrian would come back. Watching him on film, you can tell he’s worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he’s in. At least from the outside, I don’t know him personally, but you can see what a great kid he is and I think everyone was pulling for him. Our players were sick when it happened.”
The week before playing the Redskins, Peterson has been more concerned with the health of his left ankle than his left knee. He twisted the ankle on the second play of last week’s 30-7 win against the Tennessee Titans. Peterson was held out of practice on Wednesday, but he doesn’t believe the injury will hinder him Sunday against Washington.
In last week’s win, Peterson had 35 yards in the first half and said he was “out of whack” after the ankle injury and was thinking about the pain too much. After halftime, he refocused and ran for 53 more yards, including a season-high 34 on his first carry.
Like past Mondays, when Peterson has dealt with the normal soreness in his surgically repaired knee that subsides after a few days, he was sore Monday, but mainly due to the ankle. He’s said he’s taken the necessary precautions to play Sunday and is communicating with the team’s athletic trainers to let them know how he is feeling.
“I’m sure they trust me,” Peterson said. “I tried to come back seven months after an ACL for training camp practice, so they know I’m going to give them all I’ve got.”
Which is why he will be back, in uniform, again Sunday at Washington.