Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson makes a living out of punishing defenses on Sundays, but on Wednesday, he praised one.
"They've just got some guys that are really playing relentless," Peterson said of the Panthers defense he'll face Sunday. "They've just got some guys that are going 100 miles per hour every play."
Peterson easily could have been talking about himself.
Fresh off the seventh 2,000-yard rushing season in NFL history – a year that started with doubts about his health and ended with him eight yards shy of the all-time record – Peterson said in January that he wants to rush for 2,500 yards.
Those sound like video game numbers - if it were anyone other than Peterson.
"I've played him on Madden," Panthers defensive end
With 421 yards through the Vikings' first four games, Peterson is on pace for about 1,700 yards this season. But through four games in 2012, when he was coming back from a knee injury that many believed would sideline him for a significant part of the season, Peterson had "just" 332 yards before finishing with 2,097.
The Panthers have no intention of helping him pick up the pace. Carolina ranks seventh against the run, allowing 92.2 yards per game, and has surrounded just two rushing touchdowns to date. Peterson gained 77 yards in the first quarter of the Vikings' season opener and had two rushing touchdowns before halftime.
"He always wants to be the best running back ever," Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said. "A lot of teams don't emphasize the run the way we do, and it's because of how special he is as a player.
"It's something that I'm hoping that everybody that gets a chance to see him play, they realize that you're seeing something that may not come along very often. A guy with his speed, his quickness, his power, is unique."
The last time the Panthers played the Vikings, midway through the 2011 season, Carolina held Peterson to 83 rushing yards. But he also produced 76 receiving yards and scored a touchdown both on the ground and through the air.
It's been a mixed bag for the Panthers against elite running backs so far this season. They limited Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards in the opener, but C.J. Spiller racked up 103 yards the next week.
"I always look forward to playing good defenses. This team definitely presents that," Peterson said. "It's going to be a good challenge for us to go out there and face these guys. Their front seven is playing some pretty good ball, and their secondary is backing those guys.
"We know we have a challenge in front of us, so it's going to be all about us going out there, executing and making our presence felt."
Peterson doesn't ever have to worry about his presence being felt.
"He's a great back. He's awesome," Hardy said. "I've got to hit him in the face and hope he doesn't break my ankles off."