GLENDALE, Ariz. — Adrian Peterson knew. How could he not know?
The running back, who was “homeless” a month ago before signing with the Washington Redskins, who had Shannon Sharpe and Cris Carter telling national audiences he should retire and “get over himself,” knew he was just a few yards behind two Hall of Famers on the NFL career rushing yards list.
“My fans definitely keep me abreast of where I stand,” Peterson said.
“It means a lot. I have a lot of support that keeps me going and keeps me motivated,” Peterson said after running for 96 yards in Washington’s 24-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals, one of Peterson’s old teams. “Not only do I do it for myself and my family, but I do it for my fan base as well.”
Peterson also scored his 100th career rushing touchdown, which put him in a tie with Faulk and Shaun Alexander for seventh in league history. With five more, he’ll pass Redskins great John Riggins for sixth all-time.
But it’s not just the players enshrined in Canton who keep him going. One of his new teammates, Chris Thompson, inspired him.
“He came to me and told me that I was the spark for him,” Thompson said. “That just in itself just got me excited and continued to have me push on and continue to make plays. He told me he was feeding off of my energy.”
“That young guy got me going today,” Peterson confirmed.
Thompson is best known for his pass-catching ability out of the backfield, but he took his first two carries Sunday for 13 and 14 yards, respectively. He finished with 65 yards on just five carries to go with 63 yards on six catches.
The 27-year-old knew exactly how special it was to be an inspiration to someone of Peterson’s caliber.
“He’s a future Hall of Famer and any guy would love to play with somebody like that, that they’ve looked up to,” Thompson said. “He’s been a guy that I’ve watched since he was in college.
Though Thompson wasn’t trying to break Hall of Famers’ records, it was an important game for him for a different reason: It was his first game action of any kind since he broke his leg last November against New Orleans. Thompson was nervous leading up to the opening kickoff.
“I just didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “Once I stepped on the field, it’s almost like all my pain went away and all the worries went away. Maybe it was adrenaline or something, but today was really the best that I’ve felt since my injury.”
The Redskins‘ 182 rushing yards Sunday led the NFL before the night game concluded. Washington did whatever it wanted to on the ground, which predictably led to effusive praise for the offensive line particularly from Peterson, a longtime friend of left tackle Trent Williams.
“I’ve sat back and watched this offensive line the last two years and dreamed about playing behind an offensive line that’s aggressive and plays with the technique that they do,” Peterson said. “They did a great job of allowing me to slow my game down and take advantage of what they created for me.”
Rob Kelley took just three carries to spell his teammates. Alex Smith got in on the action, too — never mind that he had never played with Thompson, who sat out the preseason as he continued recovery. Smith gained two first downs on the ground in the first half, one on a QB sneak and another on a scramble that brought the Redskins into the red zone.
Smith also pitched to Thompson on a college-style option run right, a play that gained 16 yards.
“It was fun to see him, (in my) first game action for me to get to play with him,” Smith said. “To see the skill set in the run game, the pass game, the protection. He’s very, very detailed in what he does and obviously … takes a lot of pride in doing all those things well.”
It remains to be seen whether the Redskins will continue to run over opponents at will like they did Sunday. Teams can better gameplan for the combo of Peterson, Thompson and Smith as they accumulate tape.
But fittingly, Sunday marked one month to the day that second-round draft pick Derrius Guice suffered a year-ending ACL tear in the preseason. Guice was an instant fan favorite early in training camp and looked like the running back of the future in Washington.
Instead, the Redskins had to adapt and come up with a Plan B without him. It could have imploded — a version of Peterson without his old magic, a version of Thompson that was rusty or, worse, injured again.
That’s not what Sunday’s outing seemed to presage for the rest of the season.
“We want this group to be the best in the league,” Thompson said, “so we’ve just got to continue to be consistent, trust in our offensive line and just make plays.”
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