ST. LOUIS -- On Thursday night, as Percy Harvin was tearing through an electrifying, nationally televised testament to how many ways he can hurt a defense, the Minnesota Vikings were deep in the process of installing a game plan that would continue to make their fans believe they knew exactly what they were doing when they traded Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks 18 months ago.
The jet sweep the Seahawks dialed up for Harvin in a 36-16 win over the Green Bay Packers? That was in the Vikings' plans for Cordarrelle Patterson too. So was a pitch to Patterson out of a two-back set with Matt Asiata, plenty of work for the receiver at split end and his normal duties as a kickoff return man.
The Vikings believed Patterson had many of the same skills as Harvin -- perhaps not as strong or shifty but taller, with equal top-end speed and maybe even better vision. When they spent three picks to trade up and take Patterson in the first round of the 2013 draft, it was with an eye toward filling the void created by the departure of the talented and temperamental Harvin.
That plan is now in full bloom, and Patterson's performance in the Vikings' 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday showed again how quickly he is turning into one of the game's unique weapons. He turned the two jet sweeps into 35 yards and romped for another 67 on the pitch in the third quarter, breaking a handful of tackles before he fell into the end zone. Patterson was targeted five times, catching three passes for 26 yards, and ran back two kicks for 48 yards, even though the Rams angled their deep kickoffs in a way that prevented Patterson from breaking free after fielding the ball in the end zone.
All told, he posted 176 all-purpose yards, became the first Vikings receiver to run for more than 100 yards in a game and is the first receiver since the AFL-NFL merger to score rushing touchdowns of 35 yards or more in three consecutive games. Patterson was the most explosive player on the field Sunday, and nearly seven months after the Vikings hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, the second-year receiver is in the hands of a strategist who plans to bring all his talents to bear.
"We always want to get our playmakers the football. So however we can do that -- by throwing it, catching it, handing it -- it doesn't matter," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Our offensive coaches and Norv Turner do an awesome job of understanding where to go and when to take the shots."
Had offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave been bold enough to involve Patterson more early last season, he and the rest of coach Leslie Frazier's staff might have pulled out a couple more close games and saved their jobs. But for Patterson's sake, the change might have been for the best. Turner had already designed 10 plays for the receiver less than a month after he became the Vikings' offensive coordinator, general manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine, and as the Vikings push forward with a more aggressive offense, Patterson will be at the center of the attack.
Over time, he could be an even bigger piece of it than running back Adrian Peterson, who remains the focal point of the offense for now but is making more than any running back in the league at age 29. Peterson gained 93 yards Sunday, rushing 21 times for 75 yards against a tough Rams defense, but even the running back marveled at how Patterson was able to outrush him on just three carries.
"It doesn't happen often," Peterson said, "but he is a tremendous talent."
In his second year, Patterson is a rising star, a worthy complement to Peterson and a dynamic successor for Harvin. And at age 23, he doesn't appear to be going anywhere but up.
"I just want the ball in my hands," Patterson said. "When I get the ball, I expect great things."