Adrian Peterson loved the rest, relaxation and family time he got last season while on an NFL suspension after he allegedly hit his 4-year-old son with a switch.
That was what the Vikings’ running back, the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,164 yards entering NFC North-leading Minnesota’s home game with the Seahawks Sunday, said when I asked him this morning on a conference call how he got through last year, personally, and what he learned.
"Well, I stayed prayed up, that helped me get through it,” the 30-year-old Peterson said. “But actually, I really enjoyed it, to be honest with you.
“I kind of got a sense of what it would be like if I was retired. Being around my kids and being able to take my kids to school and pick them up from school. Not waking up at 8 o’clock every day, 7 o’clock every day to get ready for work. I enjoyed it; I like to sleep in. So it kind of was like, ‘Man, I could get used to this.’”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in the aftermath of the league’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic-violence case, suspended Peterson indefinitely without pay for what he termed “an incident of abusive discipline.” That put Peterson out for Minnesota’s final 15 games of the 2014 season. Peterson pled no contest and did not serve time in jail for beating his son with a switch. The NFL Players’ Association appealed Goodell’s suspension on Peterson’s behalf. Peterson lost the appeal. It was heard by an arbitrator, Harold Henderson, Goodell had appointed.
The Vikings finished last season 7-9. They already have one more win than that this season through 11 games, with Peterson just 72 yards behind his pace of the 2012 season when he rushed for over 2,000 yards and was the NFL’s most valuable player. He is earning $12.75 million this year.
”It was tough kind of seeing the guys struggle when I watched. But outside of that, I enjoyed being around my family and being home,” he said of his suspension. “And I wasn’t cold, because I was back down in Texas (at his offseason home).”
Peterson told ESPN during the suspension he considered quitting football and trying to compete in the Olympics. He felt betrayed by the league for what he believed were assurances by former player Troy Vincent, who is now the league executive vice president for football operations, that the NFL would cut his suspension to two games during last season. That entire story, including transcripts from a purported telephone conversation between Peterson and Vincent obtained by ABC News, is here.
”What I learned? I learned a lot,” Peterson said today. “One thing I definitely learned was always keep your trust in God. And don’t put your trust in men. Because men, we’re flesh, and we’ll turn on you just like that, like quick. To do what works in our best interest or make decisions based off of opinions of someone or a situation.
”So just keeping trust in God. That’s the biggest thing I learned."
There were “leaks” all offseason that Peterson wanted the Vikings to trade him. So I asked him how he was accepted back with the team for this season.
"Well, they weren’t letting me go anywhere,” he said.
”So I think I was embraced with open arms. To me, it was fun. It was good to finally get back around the guys that really mattered. The guys I’ve been playing with for years now, the guys that I step on the field with and play with. So that was the most exciting part for me."
So Peterson perceives he has more than a couple chips to carry on his shoulder this season. He’s running like it, too. Two weeks after he romped for 203 yards on 26 carries against Oakland, Peterson gained 158 on 29 carries in Minnesota’s win last week at Atlanta. Seattle has the league’s fifth-ranked rush defense, allowing 92.9 yards per game.
Peterson has averaged 110 yards rushing in three career games against the Seahawks. Minnesota has lost two of those. In November 2012 he gained 182 yards on 18 runs with two touchdowns in the Vikings’ 30-20 loss at Seattle. The following November he gained just 65 yards on 21 carries with no scores as the Seahawks beat Minnesota again in Seattle, 41-20.
Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, perhaps THE key for Seattle Sunday in Minneapolis, said Seattle’s game plan against Peterson changed from 2012 to ‘13, and the defense’s tackling was far better in the most-recent meeting.
Wagner said the key against Peterson Sunday is for the Seahawks to be “patient” in waiting in their assigned gaps, not jumping out of them to try to go make someone else’s plays. Wagner said last week the Falcons defenders for his former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now Atlanta’s head coach, were too jumpy and running out of assigned gaps. That, Seattle’s All-Pro middle linebacker emphasized, is when Peterson is at his most dangerous, exploiting undisciplined defenses with changes of direction.
“He poses every problem you could ever want,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
What’s been his key to staying the league’s premier back, after a year in exile and at an age conventional wisdom says running backs begin breaking done if not vanishing?
"Just believing otherwise. Not buying into what people are projecting my way,” Peterson said. “Just kind of staying in my own lane. Having faith in God and knowing that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That’s the philosophy I live by, so I just kind of program my mind to become stronger and be a better player as I continue to go in his league.
”You’ve definitely got to block out the haters, because a lot of people as far as their mentality, will let what people say get to them and cut them short from being great."