MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Adrian Peterson would have been forgiven for sitting this one out.
Two days earlier, the NFL star's 2-year-old son was killed in an alleged case of child abuse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The alleged assailant is in jail, and Peterson rushed to the hospital Thursday to see the child before vowing to play against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Even after his Minnesota Vikings were thumped 35-10 by the Panthers and booed off the field by their home crowd, Peterson said he never wavered in his decision to play.
"I was set on it," said the running back, who was held to 62 yards on 10 carries. "I just look at things and I don't ask people to understand my mindset and how I think. Anything bad, I try to take good from it. That's the way I approach life in all situations. I never thought about not playing. It was all about just going out there and praying that I have the strength to get through and help my team. That was my focus."
Fans held signs that read "Stay Strong 28" and "Prayers for Adrian," and several teammates offered hugs and well wishes before the game for their MVP.
"I just prayed and asked God to give me the strength just to get through the game, just play and focus," Peterson said. "And for the most part, I did. It was a terrible way to lose, but we can learn from this, make some corrections and get back on track."
The Vikings (1-4) delivered as flat of a performance as they've had in recent memory to fall even further back in the muddled NFC playoff picture. Matt Cassel was intercepted twice, the defense was burned for big play after big play and the Vikings trailed 28-3 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter to send fans heading for the exits.
The stout Carolina defense made things tough for Peterson. He was able to rip off one run of 31 yards, but was bottled up for the rest of the afternoon and was held to his lowest yardage output since Week 2 last season.
Peterson declined to discuss the relationship he had with the boy, who lived with his mother in Sioux Falls.
The mother's boyfriend, Joseph Patterson, is charged with aggravated assault and aggravated battery.
"Can we focus on football? I'm not really trying to get into details on that," Peterson said. "We just got blown out by (25) points. So let's focus on football and what the Minnesota Vikings can do to get better."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he thought his star running back handled himself well during the trying circumstances.
"It's a difficult, difficult situation and there are a lot of people trying to support him within in the organization, his teammates as well," Frazier said.
Panthers safety Mike Mitchell, who had two interceptions and a sack, sought out Peterson during the game to offer some words of encouragement. Mitchell said he mentioned to the deeply religious Peterson the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 about God providing hope for the future.
"I told him that to keep that in his heart as he continues to take this challenge going forward," Mitchell said.
Peterson said he is leaning on his teammates and family to help him through, and he will continue to look to the football field as a shelter, as he has throughout his life during the toughest of times.
And the Vikings will have to lean on Peterson if they hope to get things turned around before it's too late.
"In life situations, and in football, you've got to continue to believe," Peterson said. "We've got to get everyone with that same mindset, to believe no matter what the circumstances. We're 1-4. We've got to believe and have faith that we're going to be able to turn it around and accomplish our goals. That's the way I think. We just have to get everyone thinking the same way."