LANDOVER, Md. -- He looks like a younger running back. He keeps passing old ones.
Take his 41-yard run in the Redskins’ 31-17 win over Green Bay on Sunday. He needed a jump cut in the backfield to avoid quick pressure. Then he found a hole to his right. Then another jump cut and a bounce to the outside. Then a footrace for a long gain. It’s what he once did best, and it’s why he finished with 120 rushing yards, his ninth career 100-yard game against the Packers.
After three games, Peterson ranks fifth in the NFL with 236 rushing yards and has three rushing touchdowns, one behind the leaders. In his two-score game Sunday, Peterson took over sole possession of seventh place on the all-time rushing touchdown list, with 102. He’s now two touchdowns behind Redskins Hall of Famer John Riggins on that list and four behind Jim Brown. With nine more touchdowns, Peterson would also surpass Walter Payton. Peterson has had five seasons with at least 12 rushing touchdowns, but he hasn't hit that plateau since 2012.
There’s more: He’s 228 yards away from passing Tony Dorsett for ninth place on the all-time rushing list. Sunday's success came a week after an 11-carry, 20-yard performance in which the blocking was more of an issue than Peterson’s age. Of those carries in Week 2 against Indianapolis, four lost yards. On Sunday, only one of his 19 carries lost yards.
“I don’t care about his other touchdowns; I care about the three he had here,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s a great player, he’s a pro and we’re happy to have him. He fell into our lap at a critical time. We needed a player, and he was there for us. He is everything as advertised.”
During the week, running backs coach Randy Jordan started a conversation about Peterson the same way he did a previous one: praising his football intelligence.
“One of the things that is really underrated is his football IQ,” Jordan said. “He’s a highly intelligent football player. I can’t say enough how he’s really shown these young guys ... how to be a pro. He doesn’t say boo. He doesn’t say a lot. He loves to compete.”
The Redskins ran better Sunday in part because the Packers’ line did not slant and move the same way the Colts’ front did, which caused confusion in assignments. Even when there were issues Sunday, Peterson would gain 2 or 3 yards. Twelve of his 19 carries gained 3 yards or less. But, in a nod to his heyday, he had four runs of 10 yards or longer.
“It’s effortless for him,” Redskins tight end Vernon Davis said.
Not bad for a 33-year-old who drew questions about what he could still accomplish.
“I can’t change people’s perspective and how they feel. People are still saying, ‘Hey, guys can’t do it over 30,’” Peterson said. “The only thing I try to do is be an example to let people know that, ‘Hey, you can. You can break through the box.’ It’s all about your mentality and taking care of your body and having that faith. ... That’s the message that I want to continue to display throughout the season.”
Message received. The key for Peterson will be the same as with every other running back: doing it over 16 games. But based on how he trains and the shape he’s in, Peterson does not appear to be someone who will get worn down.
That would mean he’ll keep climbing all-time lists.
“I really haven’t had time to look at it,” he said. “I have a little time off now; maybe I can look and see who I am approaching. Riggins is a guy I do remember seeing out there on the list and thinking about whether I am able to pass him eventually. I kind of simplify it for myself: Execute the game plan and you have an opportunity to pass guys and accomplish some great things.”
Riggins and Peterson spoke briefly at the Welcome Home Luncheon a day before the final preseason game, nine days after Peterson was signed. Riggins rushed for a combined 2,586 yards at ages 34 and 35 -- the most by any back at that age.
“I asked [Riggins], ‘I knew you were a back that was in over 30 and obviously they look down on us and how you kept your focus,’” Peterson said, “and he was like, ‘I’m taking care of my body and I have that mindset of you still got it and that determination. Most importantly, playing real hard.’ Those are some of the same things that keep me going. It’s always good to get confirmation from guys who have done it before.”