MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Interim head coach Bill Callahan made it clear in his introductory press conference Monday that he wanted to establish and commit to the running game, and perhaps no one was happier to hear that than Adrian Peterson.
A year after becoming the oldest 1,000-yard rusher since 1983, Peterson was averaging 10 rushing attempts per game and had totaled just 108 rushing yards in four games played (Peterson was a healthy scratch in the Redskins’ season opener). Peterson yearned for more carries – he believed he would be more effective that way -- and now he had his chance under the run-happy Callahan. And it just so happened that in Callahan’s first week as the head man, the Redskins were going up against one of the NFL’s worst rushing defenses in the Miami Dolphins.
Both Callahan and his lead back held up their end of the bargain during a 17-16 win in Miami on Sunday. The Redskins ran the ball a season-high 33 times – their average entering the game was 17.6 – with Peterson receiving his largest workload (23 carries) since Week 6 of the 2018 campaign. He responded by rushing for 118 yards for an average of 5.1 yards per carry, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the 55th time in his career and propelling the Redskins to their first win of the season.
“It felt good to get into a groove and pick up first downs to keep the chains moving as an offense, and to be a big part of that in the running game,” Peterson said. “The guys up front, they did an incredible job. I told them, ‘Hey, you guys can be mad at me on a couple plays because I left them out there.' But I think we all needed this. Get our bodies conditioned to run the ball, run the ball throughout the game, and for our first time doing it this year, I feel like we did a decent job.”
Peterson’s big day started slowly, as his first three carries went for a total of four yards and zero first downs. These struggles put the Redskins in unfavorable down and distances, which contributed to a trio of three-and-outs to start the game. Still, Peterson remained upbeat.
“[Former Minnesota Vikings coach Eric Beinemy] used to always tell me, '‘famine, famine, feast.' Just keep taking those three and four [yard gains] and those big chunks will come.’”
Those chunks came in bunches on the fourth offensive possession. With the Redskins’ backed up at their own 7-yard line, Peterson began the drive with a five-yard gain. On the first play of the second quarter, he rumbled for 18 more and the team’s first first down.
Then came a nine-yard pickup followed up by a 25-yard burst – Peterson's longest run of the season. Two plays later, rookie Terry McLaurin opened the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown catch.
"He's one of the most impressive pros that I've ever been around," Callahan said of Peterson. "The way he carries himself, the way that he prepares. His effort on the practice field reminds me of LaDainian Tomlinson when we were in New York. The great backs have that 'it' factor about them. It was impressive."
After forcing a three-and-out to start the second half, the Redskins went right back to Peterson to begin their next touchdown drive. He rushed for five yards, then eight yards for another first down. And while he rushed just once more the rest of the drive, he did not have to. His success set up the passing game and yet another McLaurin touchdown, this time on a 33-yard catch and run.
Peterson factored into the passing game on the ensuing possession. With the Redskins in the red zone following an interception, quarterback Case Keenum looked right and delivered a screen pass to Peterson with blockers in front of him. His 13-yard gain produced a 1st-and-goal for the Redskins, who capped the possession with a field goal to go ahead, 17-3.
When asked about his performance postgame, Peterson deflected praise onto his teammates and coaches. He lauded the offensive line for creating running lanes and apologized for not capitalizing on all of their blocks. He pointed to the play calling of offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, which allowed one of the league’s all-time rushers to find a rhythm despite an uninspiring start.
But as fellow Redskins noted afterwards, Peterson deserves plenty of the credit, too.
"He comes in every day and does his job," left guard Ereck Flowers said. "As you know, he's a tremendous athlete. A Hall of Famer -- that's what you get."