LANDOVER, Md. -- The pain in his shoulder -- or his knee and ankle, for that matter -- wasn’t going to go away. Adrian Peterson knew it, so he decided just to ignore whatever ailed him and focused on what he did well: run the ball.
Just six days earlier, the Washington Redskins running back injured his knee on one play and said he popped his shoulder back into place after another. Lesser backs probably would have been sidelined for the next game. But Peterson opted for some mental wrestling -- and a lot of prayers -- throughout the week. The result: 97 yards on 17 carries in a 23-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
“It was definitely mind over matter,” Peterson said. "It was a game where you got to bite down and put your best foot forward. That’s what I did. I had it made up in my mind by Friday that, ‘Hey, I’m going to give it a go. I know it’s going to be painful.’ But it’s mind over matter and keep pressing, so that’s what I ended up doing.
“I knew it would be a grinder.”
What the Redskins end up doing when he runs well is win. In Washington’s victories, Peterson has rushed for 313 yards and 5.05 per carry. In the Redskins’ two losses, it’s 26 yards and 1.73 per carry.
Future success is not as simple as just handing him the ball more in the losses. But there are reasons it has worked in their wins -- and why it hasn’t in their defeats.
On Sunday, the Redskins did a good job in several areas that helped Peterson. They had more physical receivers helping as blockers on some runs in Maurice Harris (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and Michael Floyd (6-3, 220). On one run, they drove the corners covering them 10 yards back, opening a crease for Peterson to run 19 yards on the outside.
Other times, the Redskins spread out the Panthers with three receivers and took advantage of six-man boxes. Sometimes they’d have success with the jet-sweep action diverting eyes and freezing backside defenders. And Peterson has become more patient out of certain looks, notably when he runs out of the shotgun formation. On Sunday, he carried eight times for 55 yards out of this look. It helped that he ran at around three-quarters speed, letting blockers do their work and allowing holes to develop. For the season, he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry out of this look.
The Redskins need more of that in the coming weeks to make a move in the NFC East, starting Sunday against Dallas. The Redskins have lost four straight games to the Cowboys, and an inability to run the ball well has hurt: They’ve averaged 3.47 yards per carry in those games -- and in the past three, it’s 3.04 yards. The Cowboys’ movement along the defensive line has hurt the Redskins time and again; it was a formula used by the Colts to slow their run game in Week 2 as well.
Regardless, it’s amazing how dependent the Redskins’ offense has become on the 33-year-old Peterson, who wasn’t signed until after the second preseason game. They haven’t shown they can overcome a struggling run game and win.
The NFL’s all-time 10th-leading rusher also helped with his mindset. The Redskins had other players banged up on offense, including along the line. Yet they saw Peterson power through holes and run with attitude.
“It makes it a lot easier for us,” Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses said. “It makes everyone want to block for a guy like that, knowing he’s in the same boat you are.”
The attitude shows up on runs such as in the fourth quarter, when he gained 10 yards on a second-and-3 to the Panthers’ 15, with eight of those yards after contact. Runs like that matter to a team. The Redskins will need many more days like this for them to contend in the NFC East.
Is that asking too much of Peterson at age 33, with 2,651 NFL carries behind him? Time will reveal that answer. For now, the Redskins are reveling in the moment.
“I can’t say enough about what he did, playing through the pain of the shoulder and the knee,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “What a pro. I mean, what a pro he is.”
To which his linemen said a collective "Amen."
“He gutted it out for us,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “He’s dealing with a lot. You’d never know it because he never speaks on it. He’s dealing with pain and a couple ailments, and he continued to strap it up and give everything. Have to respect a man like that who puts forth effort like that. For him to produce the way he did, it’s amazing.”