On a second-and-six play with 3:06 remaining in Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, running back Adrian Peterson stood in the backfield. With the Redskins leading 13-6 and looking to run down the clock, there was a strong chance Peterson was going to get the ball.
With each ensuing handoff, he had a chance to help secure a Washington win, and earn some redemption.
Just a few drives earlier, Peterson fumbled in the red zone, a lost opportunity for the Redskins to create a sizeable advantage entering the final quarter. Luckily for Washington and Peterson, the turnover didn't lead to any points. It also wasn’t going to be the last time the 33-year-old running back touched the football.
While a costly cough-up might lead to time on the bench for some, that wouldn't be the scenario for Peterson. Head coach Jay Gruden knew what type of player he had, and was determined to continue to feed him the ball.
"Well, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m gonna want to give him the ball. I don’t get concerned about fumbles,” Gruden said postgame about his mindset after Peterson’s fumble. “I don’t really get concerned about, you know, we just got to coach him up. He’s a great player, he’s had a few fumbles in his career before but obviously he’s shown why he continues to get the ball. Because he makes big plays at the end.”
On Sunday, that big play came on that second-and-six with 3:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Peterson took a handoff from quarterback Alex Smith 64 yards down the right sideline to give the Redskins a 20-6 lead. The score sealed a victory, and allowed Peterson to repent for his mistake earlier in the game.
“It felt good, just to come back and refocus,” Peterson said. “That’s what we talk about all week and before the game, overcoming that adversity so for me it was just about locking in, letting that play go and not letting it affect the next play.”
The run also allowed Peterson to once again display just how dominant he can still be. In a season filled with dominant runs, a home run-type play was the only thing missing from his reel. On that second down carry, he showed he still has that in his arsenal as well, even if he admitted he tightened up around the two-yard line.
“I knew it was still in the tank,” Peterson said. “It was all about just taking advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.”
The 64-yard burst put the finishing touches on a 149-yard day on the ground for Peterson, his highest total of the season. It was just one of his achievements on the day. In the first quarter, he scored his first touchdown of the game in a way not many would have suspected.
In the red zone, he caught a pass from Smith, spun off a defender and strolled into the end zone for seven-yard score. The receiving touchdown was just the sixth of his career and his first since 2013.
Peterson also reached a historical milestone on Sunday, passing Tony Dorsett for ninth all-time on the NFL rushing yards list. As a Texas native who watched Dorsett, the moment was a meaningful one.
“It means a lot, he’s a guy that inspired me, that I looked up to playing for the Cowboys, and just accomplishing things that he accomplished throughout his career,” Peterson said. “So that’s what I always kind of set myself to be able to accomplish one day, and now that it’s here I appreciate it, and I’ll just continue to pass guys.”
The Redskins hope that will be the case, as Peterson’s production has become a vital part of the team’s offensive success. In the five games he has run for 96 yards or more, Washington is 5-0.
In just a few months, Peterson has gone from someone out of a job to one of the highest-producing running backs in the league. A diamond in the rough for the Redskins, his game on Sunday showed why he’s viewed as one of the best, and why he deserves carries even after a fumble.
“He’s up there on all the leaderboards for a reason,” offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, who laid a key block on the big run, said. “We’re just happy he’s behind us.”