MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Even while defying the odds to return from reconstructive knee surgery in time for the season opener, Adrian Peterson was still trying to recapture that last bit of juice and burst that he had before he went down in December.
The Minnesota Vikings star running back spent the first three weeks plowing ahead, taking all the carries given to him to try to shake the rust off, loosen that left knee up and get back to dropping jaws and leaving linebackers in his wake.
From his very first carry on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, Peterson has never looked more like his old electrifying self. He made a razor-sharp cut followed by a burst of speed through the hole for a 12-yard gain, setting the tone for a 102-yard effort in Minnesota's 20-13 victory.
"He looked more like the Adrian of old than at any point in this young season," coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. "He had some runs that showed the strength, the power, the elusiveness that we've seen in the past. It was just great to see. There was no hitch anywhere. He looked good."
It was Peterson's first 100-yard day since last October, a critical performance for an offense that struggled to move the ball all day long, yet still managed to improve to a surprising 3-1. Four of his 21 carries went for at least 10 yards against a Lions defense that prides itself on being tough against the run.
It also allowed the sluggish offense to hold on to the ball for nearly 30 minutes to help run out the clock after two special teams touchdowns and a couple of field goals gave them enough points to snap an 11-game losing streak against NFC North opponents.
"I felt real good," Peterson said after the game. "I feel myself just continue to get stronger each week. So, I'm just blessed, thank God."
When Peterson went down against Washington in December with a significant tear in his ACL, most expected that he would need at least 10 months to recover. But after a successful surgery and a rehab plan developed by Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and his staff, Peterson returned to action in 8 1/2 months.
He was back in the starting lineup for the season opener against Jacksonville, rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars, rushed for 60 yards in a Week 2 loss at Indianapolis and then churned out 86 tough yards in a win against San Francisco two weeks ago. But he wasn't really back until last weekend.
Before the game against the Lions, Peterson went up to Percy Harvin and told him he felt "icy."
"When he tells me icy, that means he's smooth and ready to go," Harvin said after the game.
Even though he has been perhaps the best running back in the game ever since he entered the league in 2007, Peterson still caught the Lions off guard.
"He's a lot better than what everybody thought he was going to be," Lions defensive back Chris Houston said. "He looks a lot better coming off the injury."
And Peterson says he's only going to get better. That will be a big key for the Vikings offense, which is relying more on long, grind-it-out drives and not turning the ball over than it is on making big plays to light up the scoreboard.
"I don't know what the stats look like, but as long as we're winning, I'll keep handing it off to Adrian and Toby (Gerhart) back there and they're going to keep chugging along," said quarterback Christian Ponder, who only needed to throw for 111 yards in the victory. "As an offense, we're going to keep doing what we're supposed to be doing to win games."
That doesn't mean Peterson is content to pound it out methodically for the last 13 weeks of the season. Before he was injured, he was known for his ability to break off a 60-yard touchdown run in a heartbeat, and he feels another one of those coming sooner rather than later.
"It'll come, you know," Peterson said. "That's what I kept telling myself. I'm not focusing on it. I want to get in the end zone every time I touch the ball, but just be patient and it'll come eventually. We got the W, that's all that matters to me."