The Minnesota Vikings got a scare last week when Pro Bowl-caliber safety Harrison Smith went down early in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay after taking a friendly-fire hit from cornerback Terence Newman when a ball came loose at the end of a play.
Smith returned to the game, but was clearly worse for wear afterwards, having difficulty getting his pads off and sitting for about 15 minutes in front of his locker before heading into the shower.
On Wednesday, Smith said he expects to be ready for Sunday’s game with the Falcons, but was still walking slowly from the punishment his body endured during Sunday’s game.
“At this point of the year everybody is kind of banged up,” Smith said. “You never want to get banged up. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re feeling because you have a lot of adrenaline going.”
Two days ago, Smith wasn’t nearly as optimistic. When he woke up Monday morning the adrenaline had worn off and the reality had set in. A night of rest is rarely a good thing following a game and the bumps and bruises always seem to be worse the day after.
“Even when you don’t get hurt, it’s worse on Mondays,” Smith said. “But, winning helps. We need to get back to that.”
Clearly, the Vikings didn’t win Sunday against Green Bay. While the defense kept its streak of not allowing more than two touchdowns in a game, it allowed the Packers to score seven times against them for a season-worst 30 points.
It wasn’t all on the defense. Adrian Peterson got bottled up. Teddy Bridgewater spent much of the game running for survival. It was pretty much a domination that didn’t let up throughout the game.
“We obviously didn’t do well enough to win on every phase,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to get better this week and move past it, because that’s all we can control at this point.”
Controlling their own destiny now means heading to Atlanta, where the Vikings find themselves in an eerily similar situation as they did against Green Bay. After a strong start – winning their first five games – the Falcons have lost their last three and four of their last five.
Atlanta enters the game as desperate for a win as the Packers were the week before. With Carolina at 10-0, the Falcons have their sights set on a wild card playoff berth and, as things currently stand, Atlanta and the Vikings are those two teams in the NFC.
The task Smith and his defensive teammates will face is a challenge from Matt Ryan, who has consistently led his teams to the playoffs and has developed into one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. When Smith sees him on film, he doesn’t see many holes in his game.
“You can tell he’s a polished guy,” Smith said. “He’s got a great arm, knows how to read defenses and knows how to get the ball out of his hand to his playmakers. He does a good job of getting his back foot in the ground, reading his progressions and getting the ball out.”
Also fitting into that equation is the preeminent playmaker on the Atlanta roster – wide receiver Julio Jones. Through 10 games, Jones has caught 89 passes – One less than the top four Vikings wide receivers combined – for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns.
How dependent Ryan on Jones? He’s targeted him 134 times – 23 more targets than the other five wide receivers on the roster combined. He is the epitome of a go-to target and, much like defenses drop a safety into the box to address Peterson, Smith is convinced a lot of the safety responsibilities Sunday will center on corralling Jones and keeping him from doing what he does with such deadly consistency.
“That’s probably something he’s seen throughout his career,” Smith said. “He’s a big-time playmaker and he’s making a lot of play for them – a lot of yards, a lot of yards after contact. He can go up and get the ball and stretch the field vertically. He’s a rare breed.”
Smith’s status for Sunday will likely remain a question throughout the week of practice, but he anticipates being out there and doing his job. Sunday’s loss to the Packers was a devastating setback, but, when the Vikings have lost before, they’ve found a way to bounce back in their next game and keeping the ship moving forward.
He doesn’t see any reason for the Vikings to be overly concerned about Sunday’s loss. It’s over, just like it was when they lost to San Francisco and Denver. There isn’t a need to change anything with the defense, he said. The pieces are all there. It’s just a matter of execution and he’s confident the Vikings will get back on the right track soon.
“We just need to get back to doing our jobs – nothing crazy,” Smith said. “There’s no reason to panic. We’re still a good football team. We’ve been a good football team. We just need to keep doing those things.”