Only four current Ravens defenders were on the roster when the team last played the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. Those who remain have not-so-fond memories of trying to tackle Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, who was already a superstar in his third season in the league, rushed for 143 yards on 22 carries in that game, which was among the most memorable regular-season games of the John Harbaugh era.
With Brett Favre and the Vikings getting off to a fast start at the Metrodome, the Ravens trailed by 14 points in the first quarter and were down 17 early in the fourth. But second-year quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns to lead a furious comeback that fell just short -- make that wide left -- when Steven Hauschka missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. The Ravens lost, 33-31.
“It was a great football game obviously, looking back to that game in the dome,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “I remember a kick going wide to the left mostly.”
Ravens defenders such as weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs also remember how difficult it was to bring down Peterson. All but 10 of Peterson's rushing yards came when he rushed up the middle, and according to Pro Football Focus, 58 of his 143 yards came after contact.
"He's a powerful runner. He’s very explosive and he has the balance where you can’t just come in and hit him. You have to wrap him up. And you need five or six guys running to the ball, too, to try to get him down,” McClain said. “The important thing is getting him down and not letting him get yards after the first hit.”
Asked if Peterson was the best running back he had ever played against, McClain didn’t hesitate.
“Definitely,” he said.
One play in particular from that Week 6 loss in 2009 serves as a reminder to veteran Ravens defenders about what can happen if they let him out of their grasp.
With the Vikings leading, 27-17, midway through the fourth quarter, Peterson took a handoff, ran to his right and cut hard against the grain. Nose tackle Haloti Ngata got a hand on Peterson two yards past the line of scrimmage, but Peterson ran through the arm tackle without breaking stride. Ed Reed, who was not averse to tackling then, streaked in from his safety spot and dived at Peterson's legs, but Peterson blew by him to get around the left edge and into the open field.
As Peterson sprinted down the left sideline, he had a clear path to the end zone, but inside linebacker Tavares Gooden came out of nowhere to tackle him from behind.
Peterson gained 53 yards on the run, but the Ravens defense held firm in the red zone and forced the Vikings to kick a field goal, keeping hopes of a comeback alive.
“I remember Tavares Gooden catching him,” Suggs said. “It’s not a good scene when you’re behind No. 28. You just hope you’ve got somebody fast enough on the team that can catch the guy. If you keep the guy in front of you, you have a good chance to contain him.”
Four years later, Peterson, now 28 years old, is considered to be the best running back of this generation. He leads the league with 1,208 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, and he almost single-handedly carried the Vikings past the Chicago Bears with 211 yards on 35 carries in Sunday's 23-20 overtime victory.
The Ravens doesn’t usually gush about their upcoming opponents, but it’s clear that Peterson has their total respect after the role he played in that wild 2009 game.
Harbaugh said Peterson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. McClain said the Ravens, the same way they did four years ago, are focusing a significant amount of their preparation time this week on slowing him down. And Suggs said the Ravens are looking forward to the challenge of going up against the NFL’s best back.
“What’s his nickname? ‘All Day?’” Suggs said. “The man runs hard all day. It’s going to be interesting. It’s definitely a challenge for us.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun