The look has been seen on NFL sidelines since Peterson came into the league in 2007 and can be translated as this: Run the ball. That’s the message Peterson delivered in Week 15 -- and it’s one he wants to give for the next two weeks.
He knows where to park himself on the sideline, too: right next to Gruden. Just in case Gruden wants another playcaller.
“I will be ready to roll,” Peterson said. “I’ll be by his side again, I’ll tell you that.”
The Redskins (7-7), decimated by injuries, won’t stay alive in the playoff race if they don’t receive solid games from the rushing attack and Peterson in particular. And a strong finish would mean yet another milestone for Peterson.
Peterson, 33, is 77 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, which would make him the oldest player since John Riggins in 1984 to top 1,000 yards. Frank Gore reached 1,000 on the final day of the 2016 season at age 33, but Peterson would be three months older than Gore was at the time. It would be Peterson’s eighth 1,000-yard season and his first since 2015.
“For me, 1,000 yards is easy and I’ve always felt that way,” he said. “It’ll happen. I’m not pressing for it.”
Peterson just wants a chance to lead the Redskins. It’ll be difficult: The Redskins are banged up offensively and might be missing multiple weapons in the passing game. Tight end Jordan Reed already has been ruled out, and tight end Vernon Davis is questionable with a concussion. Two of their top receivers, Josh Doctson (lower back) and Maurice Harris (concussion), are questionable as well.
Tennessee could force Washington to throw by stacking the box to stop Peterson. The Redskins have also used more of their pistol formations with backs Chris Thompson and Byron Marshall, hoping to create mismatches. But Peterson will remain the guy the running game will live or die with, and the run blocking has been suspect at best for more than a month.
The Redskins are 7-2 when Peterson rushes for at least 50 yards, but it’s been difficult to reach that number lately. He did so in Sunday's victory over Jacksonville thanks to 31 yards on five carries during the winning drive; he had 20 yards before that. In the past seven weeks, as the Redskins’ injuries have mounted along the line, Peterson has averaged only 3.57 yards per carry -- and he’s managed just 67 yards on his past 29 carries.
“Whether we run the ball or not, I still have that mindset,” Peterson said. “That’s how I’m built. ... Just hey, I can do it, so just give me the chance; give me the opportunity.”
That’s what Peterson kept telling Gruden at Jacksonville, though perhaps with more flowery language and fewer words.
"During the game, he was looking at me and giving me a dirty look. He wants the ball; he felt good. ‘Coach, I feel good; I feel good, man,’” Gruden said. “I'm not getting many holes there, Adrian. I'm trying. He's the type of guy that answers the bell when he's given an opportunity.”
After the Redskins signed Peterson in August, Gruden anticipated more of these sideline exchanges.
“I was a little nervous when we first got him. I was like, man, if I don’t give this guy 20 times a game, he's going to kick my butt,” Gruden said. “He's been very good, man. He's been very patient, very understanding about the rotations, about what we try to do. He's just been a great guy to have on our team."
Peterson couldn’t recreate his stare for reporters Thursday, mainly because it must happen during the course of a game -- when the competitiveness takes over.
“Your eyes can tell you so much,” he said. “For me, it’s just like inside, I’m trying to show you the passion and love that I have. I can get it done; I want to get it done. That’s all I’ll be feeling.”
Teammates saw the determination Peterson had on the final drive against the Jaguars. His close friend, Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, said that’s what they need in the final two weeks. And yes, Williams said, the line is well aware of how close Peterson is to 1,000 yards.
“We probably should have had him there earlier,” Williams said. “But as long as we get there, I’m happy for him. It’s an outstanding accomplishment for a guy said to not have anything left.”
Williams said it has to mean more than Peterson lets on.
“I would think it would mean a lot because he’s been through a lot, and a lot of people wrote him off with not very good reason other than just age,” Williams said. “I would think it would mean a lot to him to know he can still play a game at a high level. Not that he didn’t think he could, but it proves to everyone he can still do it.”