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  • The Cardinals ended Peterson's season by putting him on the IR with a neck injury. But for the NFL veteran, it's hard to not wonder ... is this it?
By Conor Orr
December 15, 2017

Imagine squaring up to tackle Adrian Peterson.

There is something malicious in his approach; the way his arms and legs pump wide and in in unison before he grabs the ball. It’s football’s equivalent to Randy Johnson on the mound—an intimidation factor that has its origins in size, meticulous technique and style. For the better part of a decade, he’s forced defenders to wonder whether it would be safer to make the business decision and glide to one side like an experienced matador before he hits the hole.

On Thursday, the Cardinals officially ended his season by placing him on injured reserve with a neck injury. Peterson consulted with renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins, who said there is no surgery needed right now—just rest and time. The diagnosis immediately brought to mind a question we’ve had about the future Hall of Fame running back for a few years now: Is this it?

If it is, here’s a brief appreciation of Peterson: He is one of the few players who embodies the kind of lofty, lyrical praise for his on-field abilities that was popularized by NFL Films decades ago. A person could write a poem about how he looked stampeding with the football. It was more than just running. He carried modern day NFL offenses on the ground in a dated I formation amid the greatest passing boon in league history. 

He would finish 12th all time in rushing yards, just three yards behind Marshall Faulk and 36 yards behind Jim Brown. One more average season for a player his age would put him in ninth place behind Eric Dickerson.

He would finish 22nd in attempts (2,574) ahead of other bell cows like Jamal Lewis, Fred Taylor, Ricky Williams, Shaun Alexander and Clinton Portis.

He would finish 13th in yards per carry, gaining on average about half a first down every time he touched the ball throughout his career.

He would finish ninth in touchdowns with 99, just one behind the perfectly round number attained by Alexander and Faulk.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images Sport

In a way, seeing Peterson exit the NFL just shy of perfect and satisfying would make sense. On the sidelines he could sometimes be known as a malcontent. He warred with coaches and general managers. Off the field, he was suspended for an entire season after pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault back in 2014 after horrific allegations of child abuse surfaced. Peterson had to perform community service after a court saw images of a beaten four-year-old (his son) with marks all over his body. The gory details, which can be read here, will remain a significant asterisk brandished on his career.

But given that he’s so close to the on-field immortality he’s always craved, it seems like we are not destined for a tidy Peterson retirement. Not soon, anyway.

On Thursday, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said he had “no doubt” Peterson could contribute to Arizona’s roster next year. He is technically under contract through 2018, although the Cardinals can cut him with no financial recourse after this season and save almost $4 million to help rebuild their roster.

Peterson himself talked about playing in 2018 with nonchalance.

“Obviously I’m disappointed about going on IR when my body is still able to produce,” Peterson told the team’s site this week, “but I look forward to returning completely healthy for another season in 2018. I’m grateful for the opportunity that the Arizona Cardinals have given me to show I can still contribute on an NFL team.”

Our short-term memory allows us to recall a time when Peterson wasn’t too happy about backing up a young running back, which got him traded from New Orleans to Arizona in the first place. When a player has spent so much time crafting and perfecting this superhuman on-field persona, it would take something cosmic to force him back to down to size.

If this is it for Peterson, will he even realize it? 

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