- - Monday, September 10, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You never know what you might find on the NFL scrap heap. Perhaps a serviceable body for special teams. A solid reserve for situational rotations. Maybe an upgrade at kicker and punter, as there’s always some of those to choose from.

But Washington found a rarity three weeks ago when it rummaged through the bargain bin: a Hall of Fame halfback with tread left on the tire.

We don’t know if enough remains for Adrian Peterson to last the entire season, but he had plenty of traction in Week 1. For at least one game, Sunday’s 24-6 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, Peterson showed the form that makes him the 10th-leading rusher in NFL history.

Dominating an opponent on the ground with a punishing runner sets a distinct tone. Screens, sweeps and quick posts can be nice and account for positive yards. However, they don’t make the same statement as sending your halfback through the heart of the line. That’s equivalent to punching a defense in the mouth.

“That’s one thing that I want to bring to this team, being physical, every play, relentless,” Peterson told NBC Sports Washington. “It was some opportunities that I had where I was able to drop my shoulder and set that tempo and show the guys that this is what I’m going to bring every time I touch it.”

Washington knows how it feels to be on the receiving end, having endured plenty of busted lips, swollen jaws and missing teeth from rushing attacks over the last two seasons. Being the team that dishes it out is different. Coach Jay Gruden’s offense has been successful at getting guys open and putting the quarterback in a position to succeed, but it rarely demoralizes a defense like it did with Peterson.

“That’s what I’m used to,” Peterson told reporters after rushing for 96 yards on 26 carries. “It felt good to see a lot of runs in there and know I have an opportunity to contribute. That’s what I want to do. I’m just doing my job.”

Few have done it any better. Fewer still have done it at all — let along at a high level — after turning 33 years old. Were it not for the season-ending injury to rookie halfback Derrius Guice, Peterson would still be home on his couch. No NFL team had called and none had him in mind, figuring last season’s lackluster performance for Phoenix signaled he was washed up.

The Cardinals probably were certain, based on his 448 yards in six games before being sidelined by a neck injury in Week 12. Running against his former team was good motivation. So was his desire to prove the league wrong in writing him off prematurely.

“That’s the Adrian we know and love right there,” Washington left tackle Trent Williams told reporters after Peterson passed Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown on the all-time rushing list (12,372) and moved into a seventh-place tie with Shaun Alexander and Marshall Faulk for rushing touchdowns (100).

Peterson was a breath of fresh air for Washington’s rushing attack while Chris Thompson provided the cool breeze, adding 128 yards from scrimmage and showing no signs of the leg injury that ended his season after nine games last year. Peterson said he was energized by Thompson’s presence; the third-down specialist apparently rubbed off on the bruiser, too.

Never much of a pass catcher in 12 NFL seasons, Peterson had two receptions for 70 yards, including a 52-yard gain late in the game. Thompson had a team-high six receptions for 70 yards, giving Washington a potent run-catch duo out the backfield.

Gruden and quarterback Alex Smith definitely need to get the receivers more involved — eight grabs for 65 years combined from Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson isn’t going to cut it. Still, lots of teams have built success upon a ground game and strong defense, two features that were in abundant supply against Arizona. And we’re well aware that elements are more important around here than glitzy passing yardage.

(Let me toss a bone to the pessimists among us: Yes, it’s only one game, and the performance won’t mean squat unless Washington can replicate it, say, nine or 10 times. Feel better?)

How Peterson holds up will be a key factor moving forward. Easing his load whenever possible would be prudent, meaning Gruden shouldn’t send him on the field with a 24-6 lead and three minutes left. Let Rob Kelly mop up in those instances. Peterson isn’t ancient, but he should be treated like a fine antique and handled with care.

Washington was fortunate to find him.

Try not to wear him out.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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