SEATTLE. Cordarrell Patterson lugged his wheeled bag out of the visitors’ locker room at Lumen Field on Sunday afternoon, a smile on his face bright enough to justify his decision to wear sunglasses inside.

Teammates joked about him and why, after starting, he didn’t have this NFL season in which the former wide receiver/responder proved in his second season with the Atlanta Falcons that he is one of the best running backs in the league. league.

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As he walked, he was asked if anything surprised him about his game in the first three weeks. He is quiet. We talked about chances in games and with the Falcons in general.

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“They really gave me the opportunity, believed in me and just trusted me, you know, with my age,” Patterson said. “Everyone says age affects things, but I’m only here to party.”

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Age, in Patterson’s case, may not even be something to worry about. Patterson turned 31 in March. By that time, most runners are nearing the end of their long and grueling career after being hit over and over again.

Patterson doesn’t run like that at all. Three weeks later, Patterson is third in the NFL in rushing with 302 yards. Twice this season, he set career highs – in the first game against New Orleans, when he scored 120 yards, and then on Sunday in Seattle, when he set a new career high with 141 yards.

Patterson is rushing for 1,706 yards this season, and while that’s probably not a steady pace – he’s currently averaging just over 100 yards per game – there aren’t many guys who have made it if he does.

At his age.

Curtis Martin ran for 1,697 yards in a season at age 31. Tiki Barber ran for 1,662 yards and Walter Payton for 1,551 yards. Thomas Jones had 1,402 yards and Tony Dorsett had 1,307 yards. This is a list of the top 250 seasons of all time.

If Patterson stays healthy and productive, he may find himself in rare company. When told he was second in the league in rush (now third after Saquon Barkley moved to second on Monday night), he first asked, “Who?” When he was told that it was him, that smile flashed again along with loud laughter.

“Honestly, man, I love football so much,” Patterson said. “I don’t think there is a single guy in this world who loves football as much as I love football. I just love to have fun and enjoy it like I do.”

It is being erased.

His guys – everyone who blocks for him – also shine. He is quick to pay tribute to everyone from the offensive line to defenseman Keith Smith, tights and even his receivers. Running, he says, is all about blocking a bit and then he gets the benefit. What may seem simple. But it is not.

“There are certain tracks and stuff like that. [to run through],” left-back Chris Lindström said. “But we’re just trying to cover for these guys and he has the freedom to play and he does it. He is so talented that he often makes us right.”

Lindström felt it was possible in the spring and at training camp when the line felt they were losing the ball faster than before. Then the Saints game, where the Falcons ran for 201 yards, confirmed much of their thinking.

The way the Falcons operate has also provided Atlanta with a balance that gives coach Arthur Smith the flexibility to manage as many formations and formations as he can because Patterson can do just about anything from almost anywhere on the field.

“It opens him up,” tight end Kyle Pitts said. “You have to stop the run, stop the pass, and he does a great job despite being big.”

This size is key. Few NFL running backs are 6ft 2in and 220lbs and can look their hitters straight in the eye. Not many have the speed and foresight that Patterson has, going back to his days as one of the best answerers in the league.

So trying to grab him is, well, not the same as trying to run over a normal runner. Patterson is not like that at all.

“He skips leg day so he has little skinny legs,” Keith Smith joked. “But these things move and he will run through the tackle and whether you hit him low or high, it doesn’t really matter because I think it’s just his willpower and he just has such a mindset that he going to run. anything.”

Patterson, a few feet away, quickly clarifies that no, he doesn’t skip leg day. The way he runs would be proof of that. Smith, one of his key blockers, is his boyfriend. He will joke with him whenever he can. One thing that is no joke is that 10 years later, Patterson has a domestic and clear offensive role. And as he exits the dressing room to head for the bus, he smiles for the last time. Does he feel like he’s 31?

“Hell no,” Patterson said. “I feel like I’m 22.”