Adrian Peterson’s Hall of Fame-type career with the Minnesota Vikings ended on a rocky note following a tumultuous final three seasons.
Sour feelings were bound to follow as Minnesota moved on from its all-time leading rusher. The Vikings never showed a desire to re-sign Peterson, the 32-year-old running back who had rushed for 11,747 yards in 10 seasons.
Peterson signed with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason, joining a backfield that already had 1,000-yard rusher Mark Ingram and drafted Alvin Kamara in the third round.
The NFL schedule makers didn’t wait to reunite Peterson and his former team.
Peterson gets his chance at the Vikings in the season opener Monday night as he returns to Minnesota with his new team. For the ultra-competitive Peterson, the juices must be flowing, and he admitted as such to a Minnesota reporter that went to New Orleans to visit with the long-time Viking.
“In my mind, we’re starting and ending the season in Minnesota,” Peterson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, referring to Super Bowl LII in Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium. “Of course I want to stick it to them. I want to stick it to everyone we play. But going back to Minnesota, playing the Vikings? Yeah, I want to stick it to them.”
Peterson’s return to Minnesota offers the juicy subplot. The Saints (8-8 in 2016) and Vikings (7-9) are focused on starting their seasons with a big NFC victory.
“I hope we have a chip on our shoulder,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “This game isn’t about Adrian Peterson. It’s about the Vikings and the Saints. They’ve got a lot of great offensive weapons and he’s a great player, but this game isn’t about Adrian Peterson.”
New Orleans coach Sean Payton echoed Zimmer’s response.
“If you play or coach in this league this extra (effort on game day) there’s emotions getting ready to play and being hyped up and what have you, but if you ever watch a game after the first two or three snaps the speed of the game and the way guys are playing (changes),” Payton told the team’s website. “In week one, I don’t think it takes a storyline like a former running back returning to (get hyped before the game). I think that will be discussed a lot in the early portion for good reason because how successful his career was there, but I don’t think I would say in the offensive meeting, hey, we know this defense is going to be coming after you extra.”
Peterson will be in his familiar No. 28, but the black and gold jersey looks different and the role has changed. Peterson was the centerpiece of the Vikings’ offense when he was on the field. The 2012 NFL MVP will enter his first regular-season game with New Orleans likely coming off the bench behind Ingram.
The Saints’ offense has started and stopped for 11 seasons with quarterback Drew Brees. New Orleans traded receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots and signed Ted Ginn to be the No. 2 receiver with Michael Thomas, who had a standout rookie year. Willie Snead is suspended for three games because of an offseason DWI.
The Saints led the NFL in total offense last year at 426 yards per game. Ingram was effective as the lead back, rushing for 1,043 yards for a 5.1-yard average and catching 46 passes to go with 10 total touchdowns.
“They haven’t changed too much,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been running the same offense for a long time. They get in the ‘I’, they get in base personnel, run the ball then play-action, and then they’ll spread you out. They’re not going to change too much. They’re pretty darn good.”
The Vikings had the league’s third-ranked defense last season, allowing 314.9 yards per game. They return nearly every starter, including five who made the Pro Bowl: linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith.
After years of facing Peterson in practice, Minnesota’s defense is ready for the matchup.
“It makes it more interesting once he bounces it outside or catches the ball,” Rhodes told the Star Tribune. “You have that extra adrenaline, whatever you want to call it, if you can stop him so you can talk trash later on that day.”
Offensively, the Vikings have replaced Peterson with veteran Latavius Murray and second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook, along with holdover Jerick McKinnon. Cook, the No. 41 pick out of Florida State, is expected to lead the timeshare.
“I don’t think there’s been much difference at all,” Zimmer said of Cook preparing for Week 1. “I think he came in with the mindset that Dalvin is a pretty confident player and his skill set has shown the same thing. I don’t think there’s been any real difference in his attitude or anything else.”
Cook will be ready, as will Peterson.