MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adrian Peterson’s return to Minnesota was filled with many more boos than yards rushing, and the former Vikings star walked off the field yearning for more involvement in his new offense.
Peterson rushed for 18 yards on just six carries in his first game with the New Orleans Saints, turning an emotional homecoming into an afterthought in the Saints’ 29-19 loss on Monday night.
“It was a little different, but for me, once I got out there it was more fun,” Peterson said. “I wish I could’ve got some more snaps, but it was fun and interesting to get in there and go against those guys.”
Peterson spent his first 10 seasons with the Vikings, emerging as perhaps the best pure runner of his generation while he made seven trips to the Pro Bowl, set the single-game rushing record and racked up 2,097 yards in a 2012 season that began about 10 months after he had reconstructive knee surgery. But with his 32nd birthday on the horizon in March and Peterson coming off another knee surgery, the Vikings said goodbye to No. 28.
He landed in New Orleans, with the Saints believing that pairing him with a star quarterback for just the second time in his career would help Peterson find new juice in those old legs.
The first seven years of Peterson’s stay in Minnesota were among the most dynamic and productive a Vikings player has ever had. His affable demeanor and work in the community combined with a unique blend of power and speed made him one of the most popular players to ever wear purple.
His star was tarnished in 2014 when he only played in one game while facing allegations that he used a wooden switch to whip his then-4-year-old son. The scandal caused sponsors to drop him, fans to throw away his jersey and several high-ranking Vikings officials to consider moving on from him right then and there.
After sitting out nearly the entire season, a remorseful Peterson returned in 2015 to win his third rushing title and restore some of the goodwill he had lost during the previous year. He had just 72 yards on 37 carries while being limited by a right knee injury last year, prompting the Vikings to decline the $18 million option on his contract and bring in free agent Latavius Murray and draft Dalvin Cook in the second round.
But once he was wearing enemy colors in the season opener, the fans made their feelings clear.
Peterson took the first handoff of the game, bursting through the line for 9 yards. He was booed vociferously by a rowdy Vikings crowd, many of whom still wore that purple No. 28 to the game.
That wasn’t the only unfamiliar feeling for Peterson.
He is transitioning from the focal point of the Vikings offense to a role player with the Saints, sharing time with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the backfield. He acknowledged it is going to take some getting used to, but he was used only sparingly in the opener. After getting two carries on the first drive of the game, Peterson had just four the rest of the way.
At one point early in the third quarter, Peterson and coach Sean Payton appeared to have a brief, tense exchange on the sideline. Peterson said he would keep that conversation “confidential,” but insisted there was no animosity between the two.
“There is no conflict. Let’s not try to spin it like there is,” Peterson said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Payton and his offense. He’s a great mind. We’re going to learn from this.”
“We weren’t in any heated exchange,” Payton said. “I’d tell you if we were in a heated exchange, so why don’t you ask him? I think he was into it; we were all into it. There was none that I can recall, and I’m being honest.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Saints faced a second-and-goal from 3-yard line, the kind of situation that Peterson has thrived in while scoring 97 touchdowns in his career. But Kamara was the man in the backfield.
“Obviously being the competitor that I am, I want to be in on every snap. But I don’t make those calls,” Peterson said. “I’m there being pulled back, just waiting for my number to be called. I’ve got confidence in Mark, in Alvin, to be able to make things happen in the red zone as well. I’ve got confidence in myself. That’s something I’ve done well. But at the end of the day, I think we can learn a lot from this film after watching it.
The Vikings, meanwhile, looked crisp and explosive with a new pass-first offensive identity. Sam Bradford threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns and Cook rushed for 127 yards on 22 carries.
The fans may still hold some sort of grudge against Peterson. The Vikings have clearly moved on.
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