NFL: Peterson’s return fails to excite
By Brian Murphy St. Paul Pioneer Press SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The Vikings were the first team to report to training camp and the last to play in Week 1, an interminable wait that cut into Monday night bedtimes for millions east of the Rockies. Ad...
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The Vikings were the first team to report to training camp and the last to play in Week 1, an interminable wait that cut into Monday night bedtimes for millions east of the Rockies.
Adrian Peterson had to hang on even longer for his anticipated return to the Vikings’ huddle and the NFL’s bosom.
The running back largely remained missing in action at Levi’s Stadium along with Minnesota’s well-hyped, supposedly diversified offense.
To be sure, there are 15 games and ample time to scrutinize Peterson’s renewal and potential impact. Early returns were troubling in the Vikings’ uninspiring, 20-3 season-opening loss at San Francisco.
Minnesota’s haphazard offensive performance revealed a one-dimensional player who has yet to earn the complete trust of a coaching staff expecting more bang for the buck.
Blocking has always been the glowing Kryptonite rock around Peterson’s neck. He bristles at the criticism. But it was telling when tight end Rhett Ellison was deployed late in the first quarter to fortify the Vikings’ strafed offensive line after Peterson reverted to blocking turnstile.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was awful. He also had one toe on the autopsy table all night, with pass protection looking like a hot mess for the foreseeable future.
It had been 372 days since Peterson carried the football, a forgettable performance in the 2014 season opener at St. Louis. He ran for a pedestrian 75 yards against the Rams, his last attempt a 1-yard loss.
Then came the felony indictment in Texas; disturbing pictures of his bloodied son; a plea bargain; the NFL suspension and court victory over Commissioner Roger Goodell; months of brooding and martyrdom in his Houston lair; a final power play to leverage more guaranteed money out of his ever-patient employers before their celebrated reconciliation in June.
“It felt good to get back out there with the guys, to kind of get the cobwebs off,” said Peterson, who finished with a paltry 31 yards on 10 carries.
“It at least felt good to go out there and play football, take some hits. But it was definitely embarrassing to come out and perform the way we did as a group tonight.”
Having ceded the franchise mantel to Bridgewater, Peterson played his first game as a 30-year-old running back and mercenary who is hunting Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record of 18,355 yards.
His comeback should indicate whether he is at the dawn of an epic reboot, stiff-arming Father Time on the inevitable march to Canton, or reflect just another running back on the down slope of a career that already has eclipsed 10,000 rushing yards.
A phalanx of cameras followed Peterson out of the tunnel for pre-game warm-ups. The smattering of boos was drowned out by the hero’s greeting from phone-wielding Vikings fans who crowded the north end zone sections to chronicle the return of the onetime pariah.
Boos continued when Minnesota’s offense finally took the field 5 1/2 minutes into the first quarter after the 49ers’ impressive but aborted opening drive. Uncertain whether fans were scolding Peterson or their own team after Andrew Sendejo’s field-goal block and Marcus Sherels’ 44-yard return set up the Vikings at the San Francisco 26.
Peterson didn’t get any touches on their unsightly three-and-out opening series.
Instead, he played play-action decoy as Bridgewater threw a trio of incompletions out of the shotgun with Peterson at his side.
“I felt a little hesitant a couple times coming out of the shotgun,” acknowledged Peterson, whose power running game traditionally started with his bull rush from deep in the backfield.
Peterson whiffed picking up a blitzing cornerback on third down and didn’t fare any better as a pair of 49ers rushers steamrolled Bridgewater for a sack on the next Vikings drive.
Peterson was in bubble wrap all preseason, which has become standard. But it did not appear the Vikings had much planned for him at the start. Falling further behind in the second half forced them to scrap their running game.
So much for the pent-up energy Peterson’s yearlong layoff and chip-on-the-shoulder pledge to reassert his bona fides.
He only rushed four times for 14 yards in the first half. He did catch a second-quarter screen pass and turn upfield, dragging three 49ers defenders with him for what turned out to be a 17-yard gain - the only buzz he generated.
“Adrian knows he’s a big part of this offense and we’re excited,” said Bridgewater.
But there Peterson was, standing on the sideline in the final minute, helmet in hand, as Matt Asiata spelled him for Minnesota’s final drive.
The Vikings lined up three wide receivers but pass-protection duties fell to the more reliable Asiata. Not that it mattered.
The drive essentially stalled at midfield, time expired, and the Vikings skulked into the locker room trailing 7-0, the Peterson enigma even more pronounced.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.