At this point of the season, there isn't a player, from the oldest veteran on the roster to practice-squad players who don't participate on Sundays, that feels 100 percent. Some players say they don't feel 100 percent after the first week of training camp and it just declines as the season goes along.
But, when you're 2-12 and back in the discussion of potentially getting the No. 1 overall draft pick, the mental toll of this season has been as hard as the physical toll on some players.
Linebacker Chad Greenway said the Vikings have to find what they can salvage in the final two weeks and not look back on their lost season.
"If you look at the big picture of negativity, you're just going to bring yourself down," Greenway said. "It is what it is. That's out there. We created it ourselves and we're not going to excuse any of that away. But, at the same time, we have a chance to fight. It's always there."
What has made this season so difficult is that, while the Vikings have lost 12 games, they include losses by seven, four, three, five, six, six and three points. It would be one thing if they were getting blown out as often as the Rams, who have lost seven games by 17 points or more, or as offensively inept as the Colts, who have scored more than 20 points just three times and have 21 offensive touchdowns in 15 games. The Vikings don't think they are as bad as their record indicates, which has made things tough for players like Adrian Peterson, who plays with his heart on his sleeve.
"It has kind of been like a roller coaster," Peterson said. "I've been looking back over some of the games and we've lost eight or nine games by less than seven points," Peterson said. "You have the highs where you feel like you're going to come through and that last play to win and it doesn't happen. It's been like a roller coaster. I'm able to look at things as a new day. There are only two teams that really beat us convincingly (Green Bay and New Orleans, and Chicago should be factored in as well). Outside of that, we had opportunities and we just didn't capitalize. It's not as bad as it may seem."
Erin Henderson said the hardest part is that the formula for losing has just kept repeating itself. Leads evaporate. Comeback attempts fall short. One or two plays in a game make the difference between winning and losing. Those types of things happen, but the regularity with which they have struck the Vikings this year has had a cumulative effect.
"Things haven't gone our way this year," Henderson said. "We've had some tough breaks, some tough losses. When you look back on it, you try to figure out what happened and what went down. At this point, you can only look forward to the next two games, try to get a couple of wins and keep fighting."
The Vikings want nothing more than to put this season in the rearview mirror. Greenway said that, while they're still playing, the nightmare season continues. Winning the final two games won't change much in how the players will look back on 2011, whether it's a month from now or 20 years from now. Playing strong at the end will show some resolve moving forward, just as Indianapolis' two wins in the past five days has shown it can be done, but it won't change the season in the long-term view, just the short-term.
"At this point, I'm not sure you can build momentum into the offseason," Greenway said. "This has been an incredibly difficult season, because we're so much better than our record shows. I think at this point, we want to play strong just to get that bad taste out of our mouth from losing as much as we have."
The frustration has cropped up at times, primarily because the Vikings have strong weeks of practice and feel prepared coming into games. Yet, as the game moves on, teams find ways to exploit the Vikings offense, defense and special teams and there hasn't been a game all season where all three units have dominated at the same time.
"It happens often, where you think one thing is going to happen and you game plan a certain way and it doesn't," Greenway said. "You try to react and change course with the scheme the coaches are going with. We are just frustrated when you come in with a positive mentality and attitude and look to go out there and get a win and we don't. It makes it more frustrating and harder to deal with. But, the fact is we are where we are and there's no excusing that away."
The Vikings are well aware that their season will end Monday, Jan. 2 when they gather for the last time as a team at Winter Park for the official end to the season and they part their separate ways to wherever they call home. When a team is riding high and looking ahead to the playoffs and a potential Super Bowl run, they preach taking one game at a time. Greenway said the Vikings have to keep that mindset even if the circumstances are vastly different. A 4-12 season is an unqualified disaster, but it's better than 3-13 or 2-14.
"I think when you're winning and you're 7-0 or 8-0, you think about it week by week and just try to get the next one," Greenway said. "It can't be any different now. You have to be consistent. You can't let the circumstances change who you are and what made you get to this point."
The ailing bodies of the Vikings will heal up with some rest and relaxation after pounding them into a walking bruise since the end of July. The healing process for their psyches may take a little longer.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Losing season takes a mental toll on Vikings
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