Vikings face former teammates Adrian Peterson, Everson Griffen Sunday

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 09: Everson Griffen #97 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after sacking Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Adrian Peterson and Everson Griffen spent a combined 20 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and Sunday they’ll be back in Minneapolis trying to steal a division win at U.S. Bank Stadium.

It’ll be Griffen’s first game against the franchise that drafted him in 2010, and it’s coming sooner than expected. He played last year with the Vikings on a restructured contract, and signed this past off-season with the Dallas Cowboys. The Vikings host the Cowboys later this month, but things changed for Griffen when he was traded to the Detroit Lions on Oct. 30.

He was a fan-favorite with the Vikings for his sack dances, but also had his tough times. He missed five games in 2018 after having to step away from the team due to concerns for his mental health. He came back and finished the season with 5.5 sacks, and brought his contagious energy back to the locker room.

“He was a great teammate, loved the energy he brought to every day, OTAs all the way through the season. It’ll be strange seeing him in a different uniform certainly, but I have so much respect for him as a player and as a person,” said quarterback Kirk Cousins, his teammate the last two seasons. “Looking forward to seeing him.”

This week, Griffen will be doing everything he can to get Cousins on the ground.

Griffen started 87 games with the Vikings at defensive end under Mike Zimmer. He had 12 sacks in Zimmer’s first season, 10.5 the next and 13 in 2017. Griffen was a four-time Pro Bowl pick with Zimmer as his head coach.

In seven games with the Cowboys, Griffen had 20 tackles and 2.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss and six quarterback hits.

“Everson was a good player for us. We wish him well, just not this week,” Zimmer said.

Griffen and the Lions’ defense will also be tasked with attempting to slow down Dalvin Cook. The reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week is second in the NFL in rushing, and leads the league with 10 rushing touchdowns.

He became the third Vikings’ running back in franchise history last week to have four touchdowns in a game. Cook is looking forward to playing against Griffen.

“I know it’s going to be a fun game. Griff’s coming back home, that’s what it’s all about. I’m ready to play, he’s on the opposite team so there’s no friends allowed in that. Once that whistle gets snapped, it’s on,” Cook said.

Peterson’s path is slightly different. A first-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2007, Peterson also spent 10 seasons with the Vikings. He was a four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl pick with Minnesota. He ran for 1,760 yards in just his second season.

Then six months removed from major knee surgery, Peterson ran for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, nearly setting the NFL's single-season rushing record currently held by Eric Dickerson. He’s now 35 years old, and in his 14th NFL season.

“There’s really no surprise there for me. From the way that he takes care of himself, and just relentless in his workouts. Just his mindset, so I’m not shocked he’s still going strong,” said safety Harrison Smith, his teammate from 2012 to 2016. “I spent my first few years with him mostly just in awe of how he played.”

The Vikings released Peterson in March of 2017. Between the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints, he ran for 529 yards and two scores in 10 games that year. In 2018, he went for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns with Washington. Last year, 898 yards and five scores.

In five starts with the Lions this year, he’s got 321 yards, two touchdowns and is averaging 3.8 yards per carry.

“I don’t think he’s changed much at all. It’s the same when he was in New Orleans, when he was in Washington. He runs physical, violent, good burst to the perimeter,” Zimmer said.

There will likely be smiles and fist bumps before and after Sunday’s game. But between the lines, Peterson and Griffen want nothing more than to leave Minneapolis with a win. The Vikings, who start a stretch with four of five at U.S. Bank Stadium, are looking to build off a win at Green Bay and get back in the NFC Playoff hunt.