The last thing the Vikings needed in their attempt to give interim head coach Leslie Frazier a winning streak was to have the team’s signature player – running back Adrian Peterson – go down with an ankle injury five minutes into the second quarter of last Sunday’s game.
The Vikings were able to beat the Redskins without their running star, but the question they face now is whether they do it again? Peterson is the centerpiece of the Vikings offense and, as we found out Thursday, he’s confident that he will be able to return to start his 52nd straight game Sunday, but said he won’t give the ailing ankle its first true test until Friday.
“The ankle is feeling pretty good,” Peterson said. “(Head trainer) Eric Sugarman is doing a pretty good job of treating me and getting me right. I’ve been resting on it the past few days, so I’ll get out there tomorrow, test it and see how it feels.”
The fact he’s feeling good now is progress, considering that, when he got rolled up by a Redskins player during a tackle early in the second quarter of Sunday’s game, he immediately knew there was a significant problem.
“I knew it was something serious as soon as it happened,” Peterson said. “I hopped up, tried to put some weight on it. I really couldn’t put too much pressure on it, but I didn’t know the extent of it until after I got evaluated.”
However, adrenaline and competitive spirit kept Peterson pushing to play. He had his ankle taped three different times in hopes of getting back in the game, but wasn’t given the go-ahead to go back out on the field and risk further damage.
“I was just trying everything to try to get back on the field,” Peterson said. “But I just couldn’t do it.”
Peterson said he was impressed with the job replacement Toby Gerhart has done. After carrying just 24 times in the first 10 games of the season, the rookie running back carried 22 times. Although he didn’t have a run longer than six yards, he consistently gained yardage, moved the chains and ate the clock. It was old-school football, something Peterson has an appreciation for.
“Toby stepped in and did a great job,” Peterson said. “The offensive line did a great job, too. It’s a battle between the trenches, so it’s going to go back and forth. Overall, they did a great job. Toby did a great job stepping in, running the ball and making some key plays that kept some of our drives alive.”
Peterson was in line to have a huge game, since so much of the game plan was to feed the ball to Peterson and let the Vikings dominate the Redskins porous defense, which was ranked near the bottom of the league in both rushing and passing. When he went down, that philosophy didn’t change, it was just that Gerhart got the carries Peterson was in line to get.
“I think that was something Coach (Leslie) Frazier really wanted was to focus on our run game and get that back going again,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “(He stressed) just immediately start back at the basics, whether it was stopping the run on defense or running the ball on offense.”
While Gerhart didn’t have a run longer than six yards, the longest Vikings rush of the second half came from the least likely source – Brett Favre. On a rollout designed to find Percy Harvin, the Redskins had the look covered, but Favre scrambled 10 yards for the first down.
While nobody would be making comparisons of Favre’s cat-like speed with people like Michael Vick, nobody was happier than Peterson – who was jumping up and down like a fan when Favre converted the game-clinching first-down run.
“He made a heck of a play and I was surprised that he took off and ran with it,” Peterson said. “He was moving pretty good for being 41, but I know Favre is going to show up and do what he does every game – and that’s go out and play with all the heart he has. That’s all we can ask for.”
While the youngest and oldest Vikings helped secure the win last week, the burning question remains as to whether Peterson’s ailing ankle will be in playing shape in time for Sunday? He has been getting treatment since Monday. He didn’t practice Wednesday. He didn’t practice Thursday. But he said that has been the plan all along and that Friday has been the target date.
The rest, he said, has been helpful and the signs are pointing to the healing process coming along quickly.
“The swelling has went down on it,” Peterson said. “I’m more mobile and the flexibility is getting there, too. The soreness is going away, so I’m taking a step forward.
The concern that remains is his recollection of the injury as it happened. Ordinarily, high ankle sprains are excruciating and more difficult to heal with than a lower ankle sprain. Peterson suffered a high ankle sprain at Oklahoma. What he experienced Sunday was worse. Much worse.
“I had a high ankle sprain in college, but I can’t compare it to that,” Peterson said. “Initially when it happened, it was the worst pain I’ve felt as far as any type of ankle injury I’ve had. But, throughout the week, the pain has went away and the flexibility is getting back to where it needs to be and it’s feeling good.”
As he made an effort to get back on the field last Sunday, he said he will be even more difficult to keep off the field this Sunday.
“I was trying, I was trying,” Peterson said of Sunday’s frustration. “I was trying to push it. It’s just the mentality that I have – to get out there and try to help my team win. Plus, I love the game, so I was just doing whatever I could just to try to get back on the field.”
At stake is a 51-game consecutive starts streak that Peterson began when he returned from his only significant NFL injury against the Packers in his rookie season of 2007. He said that has served as additional motivation, because, when you play with a guy who has a streak six times longer, your toughness to stay on the field increases.
“That’s something I take pride in, especially at the running back position,” Peterson said. “It’s all about your durability – being able to last long. But, I’m smart, too. I’m going to be able to test it out (Friday) and I feel like I’ll be ready to go.”
Will he play if he knows he’s less than 100 percent? A lot of guys would. But their nickname isn’t all day. Will Peterson push to start even if he knows he’s less than full strength?
“Oh yeah,” Peterson said. “I’ve played plenty of times and not been 100 percent.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.