Cornerback Patrick Peterson lines up against the Patriots.
Patrick Peterson crept up on the edge of the tight Patriots formation on third-and-1, and proceeded to show why the Cardinals think he can be an elite all-around cornerback.
As running back Stevan Ridley took the handoff, Peterson exploded off the ball, driving 6-foot-4, 263-pound tight end Michael Hoomanawanui backward and into the path of Ridley, sprinting on a sweep toward the open side of the field.
The 6-2, 219-pound Peterson then disengaged quickly from the block and grabbed Ridley, dragging him down for a stunning four-yard loss.
"Not many guys can make that play," marveled Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim later.
Peterson collected headlines for running the "PatCat" offense in New England, and made it on ESPN's top 10 plays for his diving one-handed interception of a tipped Tom Brady pass. But it was his excellent play on Ridley (video at the bottom) that made football people shake their head in amazement.
From the day Peterson showed up in Arizona – and truthfully, even before that – he believed he could be a star cornerback in the NFL.
"I want to be a complete corner, period," Peterson said. "Whatever I need to do to be the best, I want to do it."
Doubt does not exist around the Cardinals that it will happen. The first thing defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi mentions about Peterson isn't his speed or strength or hands, but his work ethic. Peterson came in shockingly mature for a then-21-year-old, and Cioffi said he has matured even more since then.
Last year's trip to the Pro Bowl energized Peterson even more, pushing him to get back as a cornerback and not just a return man.
"He really works hard every day at being better at his craft, which is football," Cioffi said. "But it's not just defense, it's special teams, however he will be involved."
When Peterson was named to the Pro Bowl last year, fellow Pro Bowlers Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson said then they expected Peterson to return to Hawaii as a cornerback soon. They were sold early.
Fitzgerald, who knows about what it takes to be a great NFL player, sees where Peterson is headed. It's somewhere not every player can reach.
"Few and far between guys that really have the ability to be great, first of all, because that's God-given," Fitzgerald said. "Then you have to put in the work. And you have that burning desire to improve every day. It's three facets and there aren't too many guys who have all three. Patrick is one of those rare blends."
Peterson smiles when he talks about his improvement from his rookie season until now. He arrived to the season "feeling like a newborn child coming into the world," with his future all in front of him. He understood how teams would want to attack him, how he should play receivers, and feeling a comfort in his knowledge that allows him to play fully to his athletic ability. It was inevitable, Cioffi said, because Peterson is so incredibly consistent in his work, never letting the details fall by the wayside.
It wasn't like Peterson wouldn't have made the play on Ridley last season, Cioffi added, but it probably would have been after Ridley already picked up the first down. That's the understanding of the defense – and his role in it – that Peterson has worked to achieve.
"He's much more mature than I was," Fitzgerald said. "I wanted to be great on the football field and that's still my goal. But as a person, he's very, I mean, I don't know many guys with his stardom and ability that are married at 22. He is just very, very mature that young.
"I think we are similar in our desire to be great, wanting to leave our mark, our legacy. I wish I would have been that mature. I'd probably be better off."
Peterson hasn't reach Fitzgerald's level yet. It takes more than just one diving interception or blowing up more than just one short-yardage running play, and Peterson understands that.
Yet any talk of reaching elite status doesn't make Peterson blink.
"I want to have that confidence knowing that once I go out on the field, my guy doesn't catch the ball, period," Peterson said.
"I always knew I could get to this point. It's about 'When,' and I think that time is coming soon."