Why Detroit Lions’ Adrian Peterson says he could play past 40

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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At this point in the NFL season, most players start feeling their age. And then some.

Not Adrian Peterson.

The Detroit Lions’ 35-year-old running back said Thursday he feels as good as ever. And then some.

At the start of the season, Peterson said he thought he could play another five years and still play when he’s 40.

Now Peterson thinks he could possibly play beyond 40.

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“Man, nothing has changed,” Peterson said during a conference call. “Still feeling great. Still feel amazing.

“I feel like I can play this game for a few more years. I could actually play past 40. But I think that’s the point where like hey you know what, enough is enough.”

To be clear, Peterson didn’t say he plans to play past 40, but only that he feels good enough for it to be a possibility. And that might be hard to argue against since Peterson has scored four touchdowns combined over the past two games and has averaged at least 3.5 yards per carry in each.

But after doing some quick calculations in his head, Peterson dialed it back a bit and said his goal is to play another four seasons, to reach 18 seasons.

“I feel like that’s a good career and a good mark to inspire the generations coming, the current guys and generations after me,” he said. “I feel like, ‘Hey, this guy played for a long time.’ They say the running back (career) is only what, two or four years, something like that? How about 18, you know?”

Longevity is one thing, but Peterson has another goal in mind. He admitted he would like to make a run at some rushing milestones. But there’s one goal that stands out.

“Is that one of the underlying things I want to accomplish?” he said of reaching milestones. “Yes, it is. But winning a championship has always been a goal that I’m going after. That right there, that’s what motivates me the most is winning a championship. Say if we win one this year or next year, I’ll still be trying to play the game because I can still do it.

“If I felt I couldn’t be productive or my body was telling me like hey, OK, it’s enough here, you’re really pressing right now. Then I would hang it up. But that’s not what it is. So I always say the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. You can watch it and you see that hey, I look better that a lot of the young running that’s in there right now.”

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Peterson is likely to clear a milestone in Sunday’s game against the visiting Green Bay Packers. He has 3,171 career rushing attempts; four more would put him ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson for sixth all-time. (Emmitt Smith is No. 1, with 4,409 attempts.)

But Peterson wasn’t aware he was so close to Tomlinson, a fellow Texan he grew up admiring.

“My mindset has always been go out there and put your best foot forward and good things will happen,” he said. “And that’s what’s happened to me. That for me is black and white. That’s the easiest way to be successful. Obviously put the work in, but that’s the easiest way to approach it.”

Then Peterson admitted he learned a lesson that made him regret chasing milestones.

“I tried chasing something once before and it didn’t work out well,” he said. “So told myself to revert back to the same mindset that I’ve always had.”

That came in 2012, the year Peterson was named NFL MVP after he rushed for 2,097 yards with the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson was closing in on Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season record of 2,105 yards; in the next-to-last game of the season, against the Houston Texans, he wanted to rush for a specific number of yards to give him a chance to break the record the next week.

“And that was the first time I ever did that, like, ‘OK, make sure I focus on getting 150, 175 yards or whatnot,’ ” he said. “And they shut us down in the run game. I think I had maybe 13, 14 yards.

“And just watching the film, a lot of it I was pressing. I was trying to do too much. So that was just kind of a reminder for me just to sit back, relax and just go.”

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It may have felt like 14 yards to Peterson, but he actually had 25 carries for 86 yards. But the lesson still applied; the next week against Green Bay he forgot about the record and rushed for 199 yards (to finish with 2,097 yards, eight short of the record).

“Coming back to that last week against Green Bay, that was the mindset I had,” he said. “I didn’t care about the record. I simply said, ‘Hey, if it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen.’ But the main the goal is win this game, which would give us the playoff berth and put my best foot forward.

“And 200-and-some yards later I ended up a couple yards short of the record. I didn’t even know until the (post-game) interview.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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