RENTON — The Seahawks held a dunk contest after practice earlier this week on the basket that stands at the edge of their indoor practice field.
And the players were roaring over the continuation of coach Pete Carroll’s post-practice competitions, offense versus defense.
So, no, these Seahawks (6-5) aren’t exactly cowering into every corner of their team headquarters, fearing Sunday’s task of slowing down Adrian Peterson and the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (8-3).
Peterson has returned from a league suspension that kept him out of all but the first game of last season to lead the NFL with 1,164 yards rushing. He is 72 yards behind the pace of his 2012 season, when he rampaged for more than 2,000 yards to become the league’s most valuable player.
“He poses every problem you could ever want,” Carroll said before the dunk contest.
Conventional wisdom says that 30-year-old backs aren’t supposed to be leading the league in rushing in December. They are supposed to be breaking down, if not vanishing.
Look at the stalled season that 29-year-old Marshawn Lynch is having. Seattle’s lead back was in Philadelphia on Wednesday, rehabbing in the clinic where he had abdominal surgery a week earlier. It was the first operation of his 10-year career.
What’s been Peterson’s key to again being the league’s premier back, after a year in exile and three months before the father of four turns 31?
“Just believing otherwise. Not buying into what people are projecting my way,” Peterson said. “Just kind of staying in my own lane. Having faith in God and knowing that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. That’s the philosophy I live by, so I just kind of program my mind to become stronger and be a better player as I continue to go in his league.
“You’ve definitely got to block out the haters. Because a lot of people as far as their mentality will let what people say get to them and cut them short from being great.”
Oh, yes, Peterson has haters.
The suspension that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave him from September 2014 until this past April came after Peterson was indicted in his home state of Texas on a felony charge of injury to a child. That was for Peterson using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son.
He pleaded no contest in November and avoided jail time. A state district judge deferred a finding of guilt for two years and issued Peterson a $4,000 fine, plus 80 hours of community service.
Goodell, in the aftermath of mishandling the Ray Rice domestic-violence case, initially had Peterson on his exempt list with pay for the first eight games of last season. Goodell then suspended Peterson indefinitely without pay for what he termed “an incident of abusive discipline.”
Peterson missed the final 15 games of last season.
How did Peterson get through the controversy and suspension to become the league’s leading rusher again? And what did he learn?
“Well, I stayed prayed up, that helped me get through it,” he said Wednesday in a conference call with Seattle-area reporters.
“But, actually, I really enjoyed it, to be honest with you.
“I kind of got a sense of what it would be like if I was retired. Being around my kids and being able to take my kids to school and pick them up from school. Not waking up at 8 o’clock every day, 7 o’clock every day, to get ready for work. I enjoyed it; I like to sleep in. So it kind of was like, ‘Man, I could get used to this.’”
The Vikings finished last season 7-9. They already have one more win than that this season through 11 games, with Peterson leading the NFL’s top rushing offense. He is earning $12.75 million this season.
“It was tough kind of, seeing the guys struggle when I watched. But outside of that, I enjoyed being around my family and being home,” he said of his suspension. “And I wasn’t cold, because I was back down in Texas (at his offseason home).”
Peterson told ESPN during the suspension that he considered quitting football to possibly try to compete in the Olympics. He felt betrayed by the league for what he believed were assurances by former player Troy Vincent, who is the NFL’s executive vice president for football operations, that the league would cut his suspension to two games.
“What I learned? I learned a lot,” Peterson said. “One thing I definitely learned was always keep your trust in God. And don’t put your trust in men. Because men, we’re flesh, and we’ll turn on you just like that, like quick. To do what works in our best interest or make decisions based off of opinions of someone or a situation.”
There were “leaks” all offseason that Peterson wanted the Vikings to trade him. So Peterson was asked how he was accepted back with the team.
“Well, they weren’t letting me go anywhere,” he said.
“So I think I was embraced with open arms. To me, it was fun. It was good to finally get back around the guys that really mattered. The guys I’ve been playing with for years now, the guys that I step on the field with and play with. So that was the most exciting part for me.”
So, yes, Peterson perceives he has more than a couple of chips to carry on his shoulder into Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in Minneapolis. He’s running like it, too. Two weeks after he romped for 203 yards on 26 carries against Oakland, Peterson gained 158 on 29 carries in Minnesota’s win last weekend at Atlanta.
Seattle has the league’s fifth-ranked rush defense, allowing 92.9 yards per game.
Peterson has averaged 110 yards rushing in three career games against the Seahawks. Minnesota has lost two of those.
In November 2012, he gained 182 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns in the Vikings’ 30-20 loss at Seattle. The following November, he gained just 65 yards on 21 carries with no touchdowns as the Seahawks beat Minnesota, again in Seattle, 41-20.
Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, perhaps the key defender for Seattle on Sunday, said his team’s game plan against Peterson changed from 2012 to 2013, and the defense’s tackling was far better in the most-recent meeting.
Wagner said the key against Peterson is for the Seahawks to be “patient” in waiting in their assigned gaps, not jumping out of them to try to go make someone else’s plays. Wagner noticed from film of last weekend’s Vikings game that Falcons defenders were too jumpy and were running out of assigned gaps.
That, Wagner emphasized, is when Peterson is at his most dangerous, exploiting undisciplined defenses with changes of direction.
The Seahawks’ defense has fallen off from its top-ranked perch of the last couple of years. It has blown fourth-quarter leads in all five of its losses this season. But Peterson says he thinks the defense he’ll face Sunday isn’t much different than the Seattle ones he saw in 2012 and 2013.
“These guys have been to the Super Bowl the last two years, and they have eight guys that played that are still on the team. So it’s a team that’s similar,” he said. “They play fast. They play aggressive. They’ve got Pro Bowl-caliber players on all levels.
“So it’s going to be a nice challenge for us. And I’m looking forward to playing against a good defense.”