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By Jon Krawczynski, Published December 23 2008

Peterson’s case of yips worrisome

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – What was once viewed as an aberration has morphed into quite possibly the Minnesota Vikings’ greatest concern as they chase a playoff bid: Star running back Adrian Peterson can’t seem to hold on to the ball.

The NFL’s leading rusher and Minnesota’s MVP candidate has fumbled the ball five times in the last three weeks, including twice in a loss to Atlanta on Sunday when a victory would have sealed the NFC North title for the Vikings (9-6).

“You have to take care of the football,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said Monday, one day after his team lost four of its seven fumbles in the 24-17 defeat. “I understand where there’s a violent explosive hit, where somebody puts their hat right on the football. Those things are hard to contend with.

“But some of them – and I’m not going to use the word careless, because I don’t believe it’s careless – but you do have to be mindful of that at the end of the run, as you’re finishing the run.”

Part of what makes Peterson so brilliant as a runner – his refusal to give up on a play until all avenues for advancement have been explored – has been the biggest contributor to his recent troubles.

“The type of running back I am, I find myself out there fighting for yards and fighting for yards and I kind of put myself in a vulnerable position when I’m scratching and fighting for yards,” Peterson said after the game on Sunday. “You’ve got 11 guys coming in trying to knock that ball out. You’ve really got to be conscious of that and of holding the ball tight.”

That’s what happened on his first fumble on Sunday. Peterson burst off left tackle and rumbled inside the Atlanta 20-yard line, where he was met by a host of tacklers. Rather than fall to the turf and live to fight another down, Peterson kept those powerful legs churning as he was stood up by three defenders.

Safety Lawyer Milloy came in late and popped the ball loose, leading to a field goal on the other end that gave the Falcons a 17-7 lead just before halftime.

“I was going down, keeping my feet moving and trying to get every inch I could and the guy came in and made a great play,” Peterson said.

Peterson put the ball on the turf three times in Detroit three weeks ago, though the hapless Lions weren’t able to recover any of them. He easily could have been charged with a third fumble on Sunday on a botched handoff with Tarvaris Jackson, and the case of the yips couldn’t be coming at a worse time for Minnesota.

Childress said the Vikings will devote even more time in practice this week to getting a grip on that slippery pigskin. He mentioned former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber had similar troubles until coach Tom Coughlin and the rest of the staff made it a point of emphasis.

“From then on there was only one way he carried it and that was high and tight,” Childress said. “Always. Whether he was in open field or running between the tackles.”

It wasn’t just Peterson who had trouble in that department against Atlanta. Bernard Berrian fumbled a punt and Jackson was charged with two fumbles to spoil an otherwise impressive performance in his second straight start at quarterback.

Yet Peterson’s issues are clearly the most troubling for an offense that depends so heavily on his production. He leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage and is accounting for 36 percent of the Vikings’ offense this year.

And each time that ball pops out of his rippling arms, Peterson knows opposing defenders’ eyes light up even more.

“When you look at the position we’re in, it’s getting close to the playoffs so guys are going to do whatever they can do to get that ball out,” he said. “I’ve got to give them credit. They did a good job of knocking the ball out and that’s really all I have to say.”