One week ago, Vikings players were in exit meetings at Winter Park, packing up their lockers (some more thoroughly than others) and going into full contemplative mode as the offseason hit.
With a 3-13 record registered and nothing they could do about it anymore, the best they can hope for is a quick reversal of fortune next season.
"It's an exciting day. It really is. 2011-12 is over. It was miserable, record-wise, so I'm glad it's over," said defensive end Jared Allen, who had that assessment even though he set the franchise single-season sacks record at 22 and came within a half-sack of the NFL record. "We can start building for the future now. It's probably the most excited I've been about an offseason to see what direction we're going to do. I've got all the faith in the world in our management and ownership that they're going to make the right plays and we're going to be real competitive next year.
"You look at the Rams, they were 4-12 and then went and won the Super Bowl. Anything's possible in this league. I'm excited to get back to work."
For Allen, there is still the Pro Bowl ahead and he was named to The Associated Press All-Pro Team. For others, there is only an uncertain future, as changes are expected and more than a dozen regular contributors are scheduled to be free agents.
But the core veterans are looking optimistically at the future for a few reasons. One of those reasons, as Allen mentioned, is the consistent proof in the NFL that often an open door is just beyond the doormat. Six teams – Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Houston, the New York Giants and San Francisco – that didn't make the playoffs last year are in this year.
"You see that," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "Look what Green Bay went through. They were a middle-of-the-road team until now. Shoot, they won the Super Bowl last year and got a great chance of winning it this year."
The most dramatic case of a quick turnaround may have been San Francisco, which had a 6-10 record in 2010 and went 13-3 in 2011 to become the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
"I think it shows you, the San Francisco situation, that you don't have to go from mediocre to mid – you can go from bad to really good quickly," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "It's a piece here and a piece there and getting a couple of those games to fall your way, we're hoping we can duplicate what they have done and what those other teams have."
The close nature of the Vikings' games in 2011 also gave them reason for optimism. Nine of their 13 losses were by seven points or fewer.
Linebacker Chad Greenway said former Vikings coach Brad Childress used to preach that 80 percent of NFL games came down to one possession.
"I think the fact that we were right there, it's the almost-but-not-quite sort of deal. You think you're over the top when you win some of these games, but we didn't get it done," Greenway said. "To me, you have to be excited about that. It doesn't sound so good. I watched the news (after the season finale) and everybody's saying, ‘Thank God, it's over.' In some ways I understand that from a fan's perspective, but for us it's a bad taste in our mouth. We want to come back next year and be better, and I think that drive alone will help us."
Fewer injuries might also help the Vikings produce more hope in 2012. They finished the season with 10 players on injured reserve – seven of which were established starters or competing for a starting spot. The list included former Pro Bowlers like Antoine Winfield, Adrian Peterson and Steve Hutchinson.
Surprisingly, the locker room also remained a relatively upbeat atmosphere despite the frustration with the season.
"I think the thing you saw with us this year, even though we were 3-13, we were still having fun," defensive end Brian Robison said. "It's easy to have fun when you have guys in the locker room that are still fighting. I think that's what you saw. Even though we were 3-13, even though we were sitting at 2-12, we were still fighting. Anytime you get guys like that, that have that integrity about them to go out and fight no matter what the situation is, you like playing with those guys. That's what you have to love about the game, any day at any point in time you can go from being 12-4 down to 3-13."
Or, they hope for themselves, the opposite and a return to playoff relevancy once again.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings believe quick turnaround is possible
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