The Vikings don't want to hear the word "desperation" when it comes to Sunday's game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coming off a disappointing season-opening loss to San Diego in which the Vikings carried a 10-point lead into halftime, there would be reason to understand why there could be some desperation. A loss Sunday would drop the Vikings to 0-2 and keep them alone at the bottom of the NFC North.
While coaches and players prefer to say there is a sense of urgency rather than panic or desperation, they are trained to forget what happened the previous week – whether it was a win or a loss – and move forward. The Vikings made a lot of mistakes in the Week 1 loss, but kicker Ryan Longwell said nobody has won or lost a playoff berth in Week 1. It's a long grind and the important thing is to get the most out of a game and improve.
"You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't learn from it, so you don't totally write off what happened," Longwell said. "But you certainly realize that, win or lose, it's a long season and one game isn't going to make or break you. The goal is to improve every week and I feel we would be feeling about the same about our performance whether we had won or lost at San Diego. There are always lessons to be learned."
Adrian Peterson said the frustration the Vikings had in the second half of the San Diego game, while disheartening, isn't the end of the world. However, with the prospect of dropping to 0-2, Sunday's game does have the sort of a must-win atmosphere because the loser will be at 0-2 and looking up at the rest of the conference in terms of long-term implications.
"In this league there's always a sense of urgency, because you never want to lose," Peterson said. "You know the importance of it. It's all about being focused. We want to get this win. Period."
Linebacker Erin Henderson will be making his first career start in front of the home fans and said the team does feel the urgency of getting that first win out of the way and trying to get the team on a roll. While he said there isn't any panic, there is a growing feeling that a "W" would be what the doctor ordered to avoid a feeling of desperation moving forward next week.
"Getting that first win is always important," Henderson said. "Every game is important. When you think about being this early in the season, sometimes teams try not to put too much in emphasis, but this team in this locker room does. It's a big game and we want to get a win under our belts. You never want to lose at the Dome in front of our fans. You want to get a win and start building some momentum."
Teams have lost their first two games and made the playoffs before – the Vikings did it in 2008 when they won the NFC North after a 0-2 start in which Tarvaris Jackson was benched and the Vikings went on to get on a roll with Gus Frerotte as the quarterback. They know that their world won't come crumbling down if they lose to Tampa Bay, but the pride of defending their home turf is what is providing the motivation to get the first win behind them.
"I definitely wouldn't say we're desperate," tackle Phil Loadholt said. "I think if there is any added pressure in this game it would be because it's our home opener. We want to have a big game in front of our home fans. That's where I think the pressure comes from."
In 2010, the Vikings found themselves in an eerily similar situation. They lost the season opener on the road at New Orleans due to a lackluster offensive performance and a defensive collapse late in the game from a worn-down defense. They came home the following week against a team from Florida (Miami) and laid an egg to drop to 0-2. In hindsight, it may have been arrogance that a light would simply come on like it did the previous year.
"There was kind of a feeling that, once we got Brett [Favre] back, we were just going to pick up where we left off. Obviously, that didn't happen," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "When we lost the Miami game, I think there was just a sense of disbelief. We didn't lose at home. We spent the whole season trying to pull ourselves up out of the hole that we dug for ourselves. In the end, it was a hole that was a little too deep for us."
In the end, many won't remember who won or who lost in Week 1. For the 16 teams that won, hope springs eternal that this could be their year. For those that lost, their fans are asking what went wrong and is the 2011 season going to slip away? Longwell said the reality is somewhere in the middle and the key is that if teams win their home games, they will be playoff teams. In 2009, the Vikings were 4-4 on the road, but, thanks to going 8-0 at home, they not only won the NFC North, they earned a first-round playoff bye.
If the Vikings lose Sunday, there will be many more questions, especially in what is expected to be a very strong NFC North that could produce two or possibly three playoff teams. But Longwell said the biggest issue facing the team is making sure Mall of America Field becomes the dome-field advantage it has been for the Vikings so many years. So if there is pressure or panic or desperation among the Vikings players, it's not because they lost the opener on the road, it's because they don't feel they should ever lose at home in front of the loyal paying customers.
"I think there's always more pressure to win at home, no matter what time of the year it is," Longwell said. "The recipe to making the playoffs in this league is to take care of your home games and win a few on the road. It's the way you have to approach it. It's tough to win on the road in the NFL, so most teams expect that they have to take care of the home games in order to be a playoff team."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings avoiding panic after opening loss
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