Return of Jerome Felton Provides Confidence for Adrian Peterson, Vikings Offense
Something was noticeably different against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.
Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton returned from a suspension to make his season debut, and Peterson finally looked like the version of himself that nearly broke the all-time rushing record in 2012, rushing for a season-high 140 yards in Minnesota's first win of the season.
Felton, who spoke with Bleacher Report while helping to promote the Discovery Channel's upcoming two-part series NFL In Season, said there was something about to his return to the lineup that helped bring back the old Adrian Peterson.
"The biggest thing with me and Adrian and me being back there is just a comfort level for him," Felton said. "When he can run with confidence and know what to expect out of me, he's pretty hard to stop. We were able to get some of that back."
With Felton out due to a league-enforced three-game suspension, Peterson flashed his 2012 form but struggled to sustain it.
He rushed 69 times for 281 yards—which still put him in the top five rushers through three games—but his yards per carry sat at a very un-Peterson-like 4.1. And on the 68 carries following his first of the 2013 season—which went for a 78-yard touchdown against the Detroit Lions—Peterson averaged just 2.8 yards.
Remember, this was a running back who told NFL Network this offseason he would break the rushing record "with ease" and that his ultimate goal was 2,500 rushing yards. Through three games, Peterson was on pace for 1,499 yards—a still respectable number, but far from his own self-imposed hurdles.
Peterson got back on track in a big way across the pond.
With Felton in the game on 21 of his 23 rushing attempts, Peterson rushed for 140 yards and averaged six yards a carry.
And it was probably no coincidence that Peterson's two signature runs of the afternoon—a 60-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a seven-yard score in the third—saw Felton clearing the way as the lead blocker.
Like any good fullback, Felton gave most of the praise to the rest of the offense. But he insisted that a more comfortable and confident Peterson, which his return helped create, is a dangerous player.
"The offensive line did a great job," Felton said. "They created movement all night, and that obviously opened some things up for Adrian. When it comes to myself, I feel like he knows what he's going to get out of me. That allows him to run with confidence, and like I said, when he's able to do that, he's a special player."
Felton, who told Tom Pelissero of USA Today in August that he "shed tears" over his three-game suspension for a prior DUI offense, was just happy to get back on the field. And the Vikings offense was certainly thrilled to have its Pro Bowl lead blocker back in the fold.
"It was exciting. Just to be back and have that behind me, and to help our team get a win," Felton said. "The guys are excited to have me back. They welcomed me back with open arms. And we were able to go play pretty well on offense and help our team get a win."
Against Pittsburgh, the Vikings ran for a season-high 145 yards and totaled 393 yards and 34 points, also season highs.
The encouraging start of quarterback Matt Cassel also helped fuel the offensive fireworks. The 31-year-old veteran completed 64 percent of his passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of Christian Ponder, who missed the game with a rib injury.
Like many of his teammates, Felton was complimentary of Cassel's command in the huddle.
"Matt's been in the league for a while," Felton said. "He's a veteran, and he knows how to command a huddle. That comes with experience. He obviously got our offense moving in and out of the huddle, and we were pretty efficient."
However, Felton deflected any quarterback controversy brewing in the Vikings locker room, instead stating that the offense has confidence in both quarterbacks.
"We're confident in both Christian and Matt's skills as a quarterback," Felton said. "Our biggest thing is we can't turn the ball over and beat ourselves. If we don't beat ourselves we feel like we're a pretty tough team to beat."
A playoff team in 2012, the Vikings finished the first quarter of this season with one win and three disheartening losses. Felton noted that this team could very easily be 3-1 given the late-game heroics that have stolen two games from Minnesota already this season.
Teams don't get bonus points for close losses, however, and now the Vikings must attempt to become just the fourth team since 1990 to rebound from an 0-3 start to make the postseason.
"It's now about approaching every week like its a must win almost," Felton said. "We know there's no cushion left. We have to go create our own opportunities and we're looking forward to getting back on the field in two Sundays and getting a win."
For now, the Vikings can bask in the positives of a much-needed win. The bye week—which Felton is using to receive an induction into the Furman University Hall of Fame on Saturday—will also allow for reflection on the unique experience of playing a game overseas in London.
"It was a great trip," Felton said. "We kind of got back into training camp mode, seeing each other all day every day. Staying and living together and all that. It was a good experience, and for Discovery to be able to film that, and get an in-depth, behind the scenes look at what we went through during this unique week. I think they got some good footage, and I think it will be nice for the fans to be able to see what we experienced over the week."
Put on by the producers of HBO's critically acclaimed series Hard Knocks, NFL In Season documented both the Vikings and Steelers during their respective trips across the pond last week. Viewers will get inside access to the practice field and meeting rooms, along with interviews from players on both teams.
The special airs this Friday, October 4, at 10 p.m. ET on Discovery Channel.
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