Few people felt more gratified in the Vikings locker room Sunday than left tackle Matt Kalil. The object of savagery from the Twitterverse, Kalil has taken his lumps over the last 12 months.
On Sunday, he earned his check and then some. It likely wasn’t enough to silence his critics, but at least it shut them up for a week.
Kalil had surgical procedures done on both knees in the offseason, which spoke to the level of pain he was willing to keep playing with last season when he was getting vilified by anyone with 140-character potential.
He said during training camp that he was feeling better than he had in three years. Through two games – even the debacle in San Francisco – Kalil graded out well.
As a result, you haven’t heard his named called much, unless the color analyst had something prepared to say about the defensive end being neutralized. That’s what makes a left tackle a lot of money. The concerns that were dogging Kalil for the last six months haven’t manifested yet. He’s back to doing what he does.
“It’s a lot of things,” Kalil said. “It’s being healthy. It’s being able to work on what I need to work on to get better. It’s stuff I like to do. Being hurt and not being able to improve was tough. That’s the kind of guy I am. I have to go after practice, before practice, work on my kick step, tweak everything I need to. When you’re not able to do that, you can’t get better. It’s actually nice to have some control of the way I play.”
The season opener was a reality check the Vikings hadn’t expected – or the backlash that their convincing loss to San Francisco would elicit. As much as the Vikings were lambasted by the media – from the national network types to social media – nobody was more shocked at their performance than the players and coaches themselves. This wasn’t the team that everyone was expecting.
Kalil was as surprised as anyone. The anger that came out of that game, from the silent plane ride home to the week of practice, forced the Vikings to rally the troops in a “us versus them” mentality with everybody else being them.
“Coach Zimmer said last week that he didn’t recognize the team that was out there in San Francisco and that was true,” Kalil said. “It was definitely out of character. I knew what we were capable of doing. We’ve been doing it all offseason, all preseason. I think it’s just one of those first-game things – some jitters or all the expectations. We put all that stuff behind us and – I guess it was us against everyone – and we played well.”
While Zimmer seemed disconsolate and quiet as his postgame press conference following the 49ers loss, he wasn’t that way during the week of practice, making Vikings players happy that the next game would be coming a day earlier than usual to get the memory of the opening loss out of their consciousness quickly.
“It may have been good that it was a short week,” Kalil said with a chuckle.
On Sunday, the Vikings flipped the script completely. The offense clicked with Adrian Peterson being the workhorse and Teddy Bridgewater mixing and matching downfield passes. The defense beat and battered the Lions offense to the point it had some Detroit players crying foul at the end of the game and left quarterback Matthew Stafford a question mark heading into this week’s game.
That was the Vikings team the players were expecting to see. Nothing has changed this week as the Vikings prepare for San Diego. They view Sunday’s win as the first stepping stone in what they hope will be a run to the playoffs and the plan is to keep doing the same things they did to get the victory against the Lions for the foreseeable future.
They found the formula for success against Detroit and don’t intend on changing a thing.
“It’s still the same mindset,” Kalil said. “We want to get that run going and use Teddy to open things up for us. As long as we play together and play like we did (Sunday), we’ll keep getting better and keep improving.”