EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The image, and the pain, is still fresh in Adrian Peterson's mind.
He remembers taking the handoff and bursting for three yards before Redskins safety DeJon Gomes collapsed Peterson's left knee on a tackle and he crumpled to the FedEx Field turf.
Even before the MRI exam, Peterson had a feeling his ACL, and his season, were gone.
"I kind of knew," Peterson said Thursday. "I felt three pops and just the way may leg bent, I knew it was messed up pretty bad."
Less than 10 months later, the Vikings are returning to the same field. And remarkably, Peterson will be right there with them ready to go at it again. The star running back was in the lineup on opening day and has been getting stronger every week to help the Vikings jump out to a surprising 4-1 start.
The next step in his impressive recovery comes Sunday, when he returns to the site of the devastating injury.
"I guess you could say that because each week I've been taking a step to improving, just feeling stronger and more explosive," said Peterson, who ranks seventh in the league with 420 yards rushing. "As a team, we're doing the same things, getting better and improving. It's going to be good for us as a team to go out and continue to move forward and take those steps."
Even though he has made it all the way back, Peterson still hasn't watched the full game tape of that day against the Redskins. And he's only seen the replay of that fateful play a handful of times, and not intentionally.
"It's not something I Googled or something," Peterson said. "I've run across it a couple times. I don't like seeing it."
By the time Peterson was on the cart and headed for the tunnel, he was already thinking about making it back in time for the next season. And the rest of the Vikings were on their way to a 3-13 finish.
Peterson's optimism was met with a skeptical eye, but the determined runner threw himself into a rehab program that allowed him to return for the 2012 opener. Glimpses of the old Peterson have steadily started to reappear over the last few weeks, including runs of 34 and 22 yards in a win over the Titans last weekend.
Even offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave admitted that he didn't think Peterson could get back to this level this soon.
"Definitely not," Musgrave said. "Just amazing. It's amazing the progress he's made and how hard he's worked."
He's taken more than three times as many carries as his backup Toby Gerhart, proving that the Vikings are no longer concerned about the effects his workload could have on his knee.
"I think everybody was just hoping that Adrian would come back," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "Watching him on film, you can tell he's worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he's in. At least from the outside, I don't know him personally, but you can see what a great kid he is and I think everyone was pulling for him. Our players were sick when it happened."
They may be sick for another reason on Sunday.
Though Peterson has put the injury behind him and never complained about the legality of Gomes' hit, he did admit he'd be looking for a little revenge this weekend.
"Maybe a little bit," he said. "But nothing that's just overwhelming and really that personal."
In a situation eerily similar to last year, Peterson has been bothered by a sore ankle this week. Some wondered if playing through the pain last year contributed to Peterson's knee injury, but most discount the theory. Still, Peterson did not practice on Wednesday was limited on Thursday because of the discomfort, though he did say he planned on playing against the Redskins.
"I wouldn't call it a concern, but it's something I definitely want to get back to feeling good," Peterson said. "I don't think it's going to hinder me. I've been able to play and push through worse ankle injuries than the one I had, so I'm just focused on the things I can control."
After all, he may not take Gomes' hit personally, but that doesn't mean Peterson won't be looking for Gomes' No. 24 this week.
"Of course," Peterson said with a chuckle. "I'm going to make sure I have my shoulders low. He might be going for the ankles. I'm just going to go out and play ball and just have fun."
Notes: WR Percy Harvin (hamstring) was limited in practice on Thursday. Coach Leslie Frazier said Harvin started to get sore on Wednesday so they limited him as a precaution. ... WR Jerome Simpson (back) practiced on a limited basis after missing on Wednesday. Frazier said he wants to see how Simpson comes back on Friday before they decide on his availability for the game against the Redskins.
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