Peterson Off To Strong Start For Vikings

Saturday, October 20th 2007, 8:00 am
By: News On 6

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) _ Adrian Peterson is headed home this weekend, eager to play his first game at hallowed Texas Stadium.

The NFL's leading rusher is from Palestine, a two-hour drive from the Dallas area where he grew up playing for a little league team called the Cowboys and cheering for all the stars on ``America's Team.''

Like Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.

Yes, Peterson is that young. Roger Staubach was well into retirement when he was born.

Just 22 years old, the league's latest standout running back is fresh from a 224-yard, three-touchdown performance that demoralized the Chicago defense and saved Minnesota's season for at least one more week.

``We played the Bears, and we thought they were really hard to run the ball on,'' Dallas coach Wade Phillips said, sounding unsure about how to slow Peterson in Sunday's game against the Vikings.

With 607 yards on only 96 carries, another 175 yards on 10 receptions, an NFL-high 31-yard average on eight kickoff returns, Peterson has been the league's most productive player over these first two months.

The scary part is his career is, of course, only six games old.

``He has the vision of a Marshall Faulk, the power of a Terrell Davis, and the speed of an Eric Dickerson. Let's pray he has the endurance of an Emmitt Smith,'' Sanders said during his studio commentary last week for the NFL Network.

Peterson went to the Vikings with the seventh pick in the draft because of questions about that endurance. A broken collarbone cost him seven games in his final season at Oklahoma. The year before, he missed time in four games due to a sprained ankle.

Though coach Brad Childress has chosen to use him cautiously, maintaining Chester Taylor as the starter and limiting Peterson's time to keep him fresh, there haven't been any signs that durability will be a problem for this perpetually smiling kid.

Peterson, listed at 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, runs like he's angry at the other team. He has an upright, hard-charging style that contributed to those concerns about him staying healthy.

It's hard to hurt a guy, however, without catching him first. In that amazing game against the Bears, he scored from 67, 73 and 35 yards. He was barely _ no pun intended _ touched.

Powering past the tackles, cutting and spinning through the linebackers and sprinting through the secondary, Peterson finished with the most yards rushing against Chicago in the franchise's 88-year history, as well as the most gained in Minnesota's 47 seasons.

The six teams that picked before the Vikings probably wouldn't mind redoing the draft right now.

``I'm pretty sure some of them would, but I ended up in Minnesota,'' Peterson said after a polite laugh. ``I'm loving it. I'm loving all the guys I'm around _ the coaches, coach Childress _ so I couldn't wish for a better organization.''

The Vikings couldn't wish for a better addition to an offense that has been starving for this kind of game-changing, constant scoring threat since they traded receiver Randy Moss before the 2005 season.

Moss hurt his hamstring in a 38-31 win at New Orleans on Oct. 17, 2004, and though he returned for the last eight games, including two in the playoffs, he wasn't the same after the injury.

Excluding a 34-10 victory over Chicago on Jan. 1, 2006, when the Bears rested most of their regulars for the postseason, last week's Peterson-fueled 34-31 win at Chicago was the most points produced by the Vikings in 49 games since that game against the Saints three years earlier.

Peterson's breakout reminded Minnesota fans of the performance Moss had as a rookie on Monday night against rival Green Bay that spurred the Vikings to a 15-1 regular season. Moss had five catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers in that game, Oct. 5, 1998.

Every time a pass went his way, it was clear something exciting could happen. Peterson has emerged in much the same way. Every time he touches the ball, it's worth anticipating.

``You take the best attributes out of all the best backs now _ you might even say the best backs in league history _ and he has all of those things,'' teammate Darren Sharper said. ``The one thing about doing it is you have to do it consistently, week after week. So that's going to be the next test for Adrian.''

Peterson said he's aiming for 1,800 yards rushing this season, and he's on pace to surpass that. Dickerson's NFL rookie record is 1,808 yards, set in 1983.

``I don't get caught up in it, but it feels good,'' Peterson said. ``I enjoy that. I set my goals and I set my goals high, and I just work my butt off to be able to have a chance to reach those goals.''

He'd have a better chance if he was the featured back, of course. But he has shrugged off the split carries just as quickly as he has credited the offensive line for blocking in front of him.

``I wouldn't mind getting the ball 100 times a game,'' Peterson said, ``but that's not possible.''

So he moves on, happy to have so much success and trying to stay humble about it, too. His father, Nelson, talked earlier this year about telling his son to ``be a man'' and give a firm handshake and look people in the eye. After spending all of Adrian's teenage years in prison, he also wanted to make sure his son would learn from his mistakes.

``I always teach him, 'Don't let the things that your father has done and has been through be in vain,' `` Nelson said.

So far, so good.