GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 06: Cornerback Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Austin Pettis #83 of the St. Louis Rams during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 6, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Rams 19-13 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson is having himself quite the first year in the NFL. He was drafted number five in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals and was seen by many as the best player in the draft. Since signing his contract, he has earned a starting spot on the Cardinals at cornerback, has improved in coverage and has made difference-making plays in games. He has returned three punts for touchdowns, two of which were the deciding scores in the two victories the Cardinals have.
Since Day 1, he came in with a swagger and a confidence that borders on cockiness. He himself said at the beginning that he didn't feel like a rookie. As he has gained NFL experience, that confidence hasn't been shaken.
Darnell Dockett described that confidence with one of the best quotes I have ever heard:
"He walks around like it's his world and we're just living in it. I ain't mad at him, I like it actually."
Why does he like it? "He's still going to respect me," Dockett explained. "I'm like the step-daddy, that's what I tell him. The day he gets out of line is the day he gets spanked. As long as he understands that and follows the directions of Dockett, he'll have a good career here."
That confidence led him to make the winning play against the Rams in overtime, when he fielded a punt at the one-yard line and return it. It is considered unthinkable what he did. But that confidence is what made the play.
While on the Doug and Wolf show on Thursday, he explained why he fielded it so deep, when general knowledge says you never field the punt inside the 10.
"I felt that the team needed a play," he explained. "I took a glance down the field and I saw that the gunners were taken care of, and I saw the interior guys at the 20, so I knew I could get it back to the 10-yard line, so that wasn't a doubt in my mind."
That is the mindset of a young man who wasn't just being greedy or forcing something. It was a calculated risk that he knew was worth taking.
In fact, once he broke the first tackle at the 10, he pretty much knew he was scoring.
The confidence is growing in his defense as well. However, he has not yet earned the respect from officials for his ability to stay up tight with the receivers he is covering. It has led to six penalties in coverage in the last four games.
To contrast, Darelle Revis has been flagged twice all season and Nnamdi Asommugha four times. They are considered the very best in covering elite receivers.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is hoping that soon he will be getting that respect. He is not too concerned with the penalties Peterson is getting. "You want a guy challenging and being close," Horton said.
Horton continues on, saying, "Hopefully the league will look and give him the same amount of respect, eventually, as the guy in New York (Darrelle Revis) or Philadelphia (Nnamdi Asomugha) and they just don't call those things, because if they do, (opponents) are just going to catch every ball."
In fact, Horton points to the New York Giants game when their cornerback, Corey Webster physically challenges Larry Fitzgerald without a penalty in their last drive. "Go back and look at our game with the Giants on fourth-and-2," he recalled. "I don't know how to tell the difference or I don't know how to coach, where their guy does really the same thing and for them it's a big play and for us it is a penalty."
On the TV broadcasts, national announcers already are lauding his "elite cover skills." He isn't quite there yet, but he is certainly on his way.
Since the days of Aeneas Williams, the Cardinals have not had a tough, shutdown corner. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was good, but had too many mental lapses. Williams has been the only one since the Cardinals came to Arizona...that is until now, it seems.
Could it be that we all just living in Peterson's world? I actually hope so. In that world, he picks off passes and the Cardinals win.
I can't think of a better world to be in. Let's hope it turns out to be true.