MINNEAPOLIS — The face of the franchise was nowhere to be found as the Minnesota Vikings flailed away against the New England Patriots on Sunday, and it’s not clear when, if ever, Adrian Peterson will rejoin them.
The star running back was inactive for the team’s home opener after being charged with child abuse for striking his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, a stunning development for one of the league’s most popular and well-respected players.
For eight years Peterson has been the focal point of the Vikings offense, but on Sunday he stayed away from the stadium to avoid becoming more of a distraction.
Coach Mike Zimmer repeatedly declined to talk about Peterson after a mistake-filled 30-7 loss only to later describe an offensive malaise that he had previously not seen.
“I told them after the game that’s the first I’ve ever seen it,” Zimmer said. “We’ve had bad practices and stuff, but I haven’t seen it in three weeks maybe, guys just kind of milling around, getting lined up. I don’t know, but I’m going to address it.”
It’s hard to imagine that it isn’t rooted at least in some part to Peterson’s situation. Matt Cassel threw a career-high four interceptions, the Vikings rushed for just 54 yards against a defense that gave up 191 last week and dynamic receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was held to just to just four catches for 56 yards.
“I think we were off a lot. I think it was just because 28 wasn’t there,” Patterson said, referring to Peterson. “We’ve got to learn how to not focus on 28 and just worry about this team with or without Adrian. So next week we’ve just got to come in and game plan without him. But if he’s here, we really need him.”
The Vikings (1-1) also had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown, went 4 for 11 on third down and allowed Stevan Ridley to rush for 101 yards and a score for the Patriots (1-1).
“It didn’t affect the team,” Zimmer insisted about Peterson’s absence. “You know what affected the team? Throwing interceptions, getting a field goal blocked, not tackling well enough, having penalties on defense.”
The former NFL MVP was indicted on Friday, booked and released from a Houston jail on Saturday.
In the wake of harsh criticism levied at the NFL when former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice initially received just a two-game suspension for knocking out his then-fiancee, the Vikings decided to deactivate Peterson.
Zimmer declined to discuss specifics and G.M. Rick Spielman was unavailable for comment. There was no timetable set for a decision on his status for next week’s game.
The NFL is looking into Peterson’s case, and if convicted he could face a minimum six-game suspension under the league’s new tougher domestic abuse policy that was implemented after Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he botched Rice’s initial punishment.
Peterson’s attorney said his client was only disciplining his son, didn’t intend to harm the boy and was cooperating with the investigation.
Even after the troubling allegations, there were still plenty of No. 28 jerseys on the backs of Vikings fans at the stadium.
“I don’t think he was trying to abuse his child,” said Nick Novak, a 29-year-old season-ticket holder from nearby Roseville. “I think he was trying to punish the child for wrongdoing. He did cross a line though.”