LANDOVER, Md. — Adrian Peterson is just as confused as the rest of us.
A year ago, he arrived at Redskins Park amid much fanfare, the former Offensive Player of the Year determined to prove he still had plenty left in those 30-something-year-old legs. And for a while, Peterson did just that, churning yards and barreling his way past defenders in the open field, en route to a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Now, so much has changed.
Jay Gruden’s tone toward Peterson’s presence has noticeably shifted. And the importance of the seven-time Pro Bowler in Washington’s offense has diminished — so much so, that Peterson was a healthy scratch in Washington’s season opener at the Philadelphia Eagles.
More telling: Had it not been for Derrius Guice’s knee injury, Peterson likely would have been a non-factor for a second straight week, an afterthought in Gruden’s system. But with Guice, their promising 2018 second-round pick sidelined six-to-eight weeks, the Redskins coach was left with no choice but to start the aging wonder against the division-rival Dallas Cowboys.
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“Obviously, being a veteran guy and coming off the year I had last year it wasn’t the most pleasant situation,” Peterson told Yahoo Sports after the Cowboys’ 31-21 win. “But it was what it was at that time, so I just had to control what I could control. And that was helping the guys out as much as possible during the week and trying to be a coach on the sideline and let them know what I see. So, that’s all I could do. Now that things have changed, I’m just trying to focus on what I can do to help this team win.”
But on a day in which he passed his longtime idol, Jim Brown, for fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing touchdowns list, Peterson’s noticeable absence on the field as the game wore on spoke volumes.
In a game the Redskins desperately needed to win, on an afternoon when half of the FedEx Field crowd was clad in blue and white, and at a time when Washington’s roster is depleted by injury, the 34-year-old Peterson was rendered a spectator as the game wore on.
His 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead and placed Peterson (107) behind only Walter Payton (110), Marcus Allen (123), LaDainian Tomlinson (145) and Emmitt Smith (164) on the all-time rushing TD list. The milestone was bittersweet because of the loss — which dropped Washington to 0-2 — and the precarious position Peterson now finds himself in.
The future Hall of Famer smiled when asked how he went from “RB 1” to inactive so seamlessly. “Yeah, I don’t know,” replied the running back, who rushed 10 times for 25 yards and caught two passes for seven yards against the Cowboys.
“I’m sure many people were trying to understand it. An unfortunate injury and things just kind of shifted back. It sucks that [Guice] had to go down. He got injured and it was like, bam, now I guess we’re going to the ‘next man up.’”
Coincidentally, it was a different Guice injury that had paved the way for Peterson’s arrival last summer. When the rookie running back tore his ACL in the team’s preseason opener against New England, the Redskins signed Peterson.
In his Washington debut, he rushed 26 times for 96 yards while hauling in two receptions for 70 yards to pace the Redskins to a 24-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
It was vintage “AP.”
He would finish 2018 with 1,042 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs. He also caught 20 passes for 208 yards.
A year later, his head coach can no longer hide what little use he has for Peterson.
Asked last week to explain why the veteran running back didn’t suit up against the Eagles, Gruden uttered words that already have come back to bite him: "If we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times in a game in I-formation then sure,” he told reporters, “I’ll get him up."
But without the shifty, speedy Guice, Gruden has no choice but to put in Peterson. Begrudgingly.
During Sunday’s Fox broadcast, sideline reporter Pam Oliver said on air that Gruden feels Peterson’s “North-South” running style “limits the offense and gives the defense way too many opportunities.”
That begs the question: If Gruden isn’t enamored with Peterson, why is he still on the roster?
With Guice coming off ACL surgery, Gruden saw Peterson as an insurance policy — one the coach never anticipated needing to use. But now, the presumed backup is again a starter.
As the Cowboys increased their single-digit, second-quarter lead to a 21-7 margin in the third, the Redskins relied less on the run. And less on Peterson.
Asked about the sudden status change, going form inactive to being a starter again, Peterson replied: “To be honest with you, it is what it is now.”
He smiled again.
“When the injury happened, it was like, OK. It’s next man up. It is what it is now, so. I’m still locked in on what we had to accomplish. And now it’s just get back into rhythm.”
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