During his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2011, no player was more electrifying than Patrick Peterson.
Serving as both the team’s top cornerback and punt returner, Peterson burst on to the NFL scene with a bang last season.
In 16 games, the former No. 5 pick tied the league record for most punt return touchdowns in a season with four. Each of his four touchdowns were for 80 yards or more, and two were of the game-winning variety — including a franchise-record 99-yard return to beat the St. Louis Rams in overtime.
Fast forward to 2012, and it appears at the very least like Peterson is mired in a bit of a sophomore slump at least as it pertains to the return game.
In the final minutes of the Cardinals’ 31-17 loss at Green Bay Sunday, Peterson muffed a punt inside the Arizona 5-yard line. The ball was recovered by Jarrett Bush, and the Packers subsequently ran out the clock.
It was his second muffed/fumbled punt of the game and fifth of the season.
While Peterson’s late-game error didn’t cause the Cardinals to lose their fifth straight game, his latest miscue is yet another sign that things aren’t coming quite as easily for Arizona’s special teams star during his second year.
“Patrick is a very driven, competitive athlete,” head coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He wants to be the best at everything he does. Is he pressing now? I’d say that’s probably fair that he is. He’s trying to make a play.”
Whether Peterson’s recent slip-ups are a product of trying to do too much or a result of poor reads on hang time remains to be seen, but the reality is in a game defined by field position, muffed/fumbled punts can prove costly.
“I’m sure every great punt returner in this league has dropped a punt or two in their time,” said Whisenhunt. “And it’s not so much that, it’s what you do after that happens, understanding how important field position is and what we’re trying to get done.”
When Peterson has gotten his hands on the football this season his numbers are still dramatically down from his rookie campaign.
Peterson’s average of 7.7 yards per return is currently good for only 18th best in the league among punt returners this season. Last season, however, Peterson was statistically the second best return man in the league — 15.9 yards per return — falling just behind perennial Pro Bowler Devin Hester.