Vikings’ Peterson faces old team amid renaissance with new one

The Vikings strolled into their bye week with a 5-1 record, sealing their fourth straight win on Oct. 16 with the kisses Patrick Peterson blew to the Hard Rock Stadium crowd after he intercepted Teddy Bridgewater with 3:10 left.

Coach Kevin O'Connell returned from the bye week to a text from the 12th-year cornerback, asking to gather the Vikings' leadership group before the team's first full practice of the week on Wednesday.

"He texted me today, 'Hey, let's get the leadership group together today just to make sure we're all on the same page about how important the minute-to-minute [preparation] is and the little things," O'Connell said Wednesday. "When that's one of your players doing that, that goes a long way."

As Peterson faces the former team — the one that drafted him fifth overall in 2011 — at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, he is in the midst of a mini-renaissance with his new one.

The eight-time Pro Bow player agreed to his second one-year deal with the Vikings in March, signing for $4 million to be part of a scheme that would have him playing more zone coverage than he ever had in his career. Through six games, it's been a fit, preserving Peterson's body by asking him to run with receivers across the field less frequently and leaning on his veteran savvy to make plays in the defense. He leads the Vikings with seven pass breakups; he had two against Bridgewater in the third quarter in Miami, before picking off his first pass of the year in the fourth quarter.

"Now, it's all about being smart, because if a team knows you're in man-to-man defense, all they're going to do is run crossers all day," Peterson said. "That's some of the predicament I was unfortunate to play in in Arizona, but those are just the cards I was dealt. Now, coming here, and kind of having more of a zone feel, playing with more vision, playing with more instinct, I believe it has definitely taken a lot of miles off the body at this stage of my career."

O'Connell talked this week about "green-lighting" Peterson to press receivers more aggressively, and Peterson estimated he had as many snaps in press coverage against the Dolphins ("about four or five") as he'd had in the Vikings' first five games.

It seems unlikely, in defensive coordinator Ed Donatell's scheme, that Peterson will suddenly see a big shift in his role. But if the Vikings decide to put him at the line of scrimmage to press receivers on occasion, Peterson said he's kept his skills sharp.

"It's just being a pro, staying sharp on some skills you may not be using at that point, understanding that's one of your strong attributes of your game, and you want to keep it as sharp as possible," Peterson said. "Press is something I'll always work on. I don't think that will be anything that will ever leave me; it's almost like riding a bike at this point."

When the Vikings first signed Peterson in March 2021, it was the prospect of working with Mike Zimmer, and the chance of returning to a press-man role after his time in Arizona closed with two subpar years as a zone corner, that excited the corner about the possibility.

Peterson had connected with Donatell in a visit to the 49ers before the 2011 draft, though, and the relationship helped him decide to stay in Minnesota for a season with a new staff in a different defensive scheme.

So far, Peterson is playing some of his best football since his last Pro Bowl with the Cardinals in 2018. He's become a trusted mentor for third-year cornerback Cameron Dantzler, and blocked a field goal in Week 2 as part of his ongoing role on special teams.

He entered free agency in 2021 after silence from the Cardinals front office that irked the veteran corner. Now, as he faces his former team for the second time, two years of changes seem to be working out well for Peterson.

"I think he's coming into a year, in a new scheme, playing some different techniques and understanding how important his role really is in the run and pass game," O'Connell said. "I thought he played his best game against Miami. Our team could feel it: his energy was really a deciding factor for us on a hot day down there. Every snap, he just kept getting better and better and better.

"Now, ultimately what I've challenged Patrick to do is be that guy each and every week for us. We're going to rely on him, like a lot of our guys."