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Peterson making big plays for Bears
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Former Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson breaks into the open field against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 16 in Phoenix, Ariz. - photo by BILL SMITH/For the Chicago Bears

       The world of Division I-AA football knows what it’s like to be awed by Adrian Peterson.
     And earlier this week Chicago Bears fans got a taste of the former Georgia Southern standout’s legendary talents during Peterson’s most successful outing this season. In Chicago’s 42-27 road victory over the St. Louis Rams Monday, the 1999 Walter Payton Award winner and Division I’s all-time leading rusher had a season-high three carries for 12 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run, his first this year.
    Peterson also recorded a season-long 32-yard reception on a screen pass, an impressive run that reminded Eagle fans of GSU’s glory days when the beloved running back led Southern to its last two national titles in 1999 and 2000.
    Peterson, in his fifth season as a professional, has established himself as a key member of the Bears special teams and occasionally sees time at running back where he’s currently third on the depth chart. Peterson, affectionately known as “AP” to the Eagle Nation, said he was just glad to see more live snaps. Prior to Monday, he had just four offensive touches all season.
    “It’s a great opportunity when you get a chance to get in and contribute,” he said. “You’ve got to make the most of it.”
    Beleaguered Bears quarterback Rex Grossman commended Peterson’s reception during a press conference in Chicago this week.
    “He made a great run,” Grossman said. “I thought he was (going to) shake that last guy loose and take it to the house. He's a great back. He did a good job of faking like he was pass-blocking, then turning around real quick to catch that middle screen.”
    So far this year, Peterson, a sixth-round selection by Chicago in the 2002 NFL Draft who is signed through 2006, has carried the ball five times for a total of 23 yards and one touchdown. He’s also caught three passes for 44 yards and returned three kickoffs 49 yards. Tim Spencer, Chicago’s running backs coach, has high praise for the 5-foot-10, 210- pound back, whose playing time is limited because of depth at his position.
    “Adrian Peterson is a great professional who deserves to play more,” Spencer said. “But because of our numbers he doesn't, which is why most of his playing time is on special teams. But we do know what he can do.
    “He goes out and practices hard every day. He is always studying. During a game when he is on the sidelines, he is always standing by me, asking me questions, learning. He is always ready to play whenever he goes in.”
    With three regular-season games remaining, the Bears, who host Tampa Bay today at 1p.m., are in the NFC driver’s seat. Chicago (11-2) has already locked up a first-round bye for the playoffs, but Peterson, 27, said he isn’t sure if he’ll see more time on offense while the Bears rest backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson for a stretch run.
    “I’m just going to go into each game as I always do and prepare the same way as always,” he said.
    Heading into Monday’s game, Chicago fans had voiced their displeasure with a struggling Grossman, but the Bears stuck with the signal caller, a move Peterson felt was right.
    “We were 10-2 with him as our starting quarterback,” he said. “It’s hard to make changes at any position when we are 10-2.”
    While the Florida native has successfully adjusted to the NFL ranks, acquainting himself with Chicago’s frigid winters hasn’t been as easy.
    “Man, it’s cold,” he said with a laugh. “But I handle it, and as soon as the season is over I go back to Gainesville. You just have to deal with it.”
    Peterson said his brother Mike, a linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars who is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, is rehabbing and doing well.
    As for himself, Peterson is enjoying life in the NFL, where he says the best part is “being on a team that’s winning.”
    “Everyone up here is excited, and we understand that we have a great opportunity,” Peterson said. “We’re just going to keep going game by game and see how far we can take it.”
    Despite his packed schedule with the Bears, Peterson always keeps an eye on his alma mater, which struggled to adjust to wholesale changes made by first-year coach Brian VanGorder this season. Was Peterson sad to see the Eagles abandon the hallowed triple-option attack he flourished in during his career at Southern?
    “In a way, because that was Georgia Southern,” he said. “But the main thing is I want to see them win.”