The Minnesota Vikings spent most of Monday morning cleaning out their lockers and finalizing plans to head home to begin their offseason.
When the team was cleaning out their lockers a year ago there was an air of optimism throughout the locker room. The team finished 7-9 at the end of the 2014 season, but it was clear they were heading in the right direction.
Throughout the 2015 offseason, people were picking the Vikings as a dark-horse team that could slip into the playoffs, but they were able to win more than many expected. They finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and were able to win the NFC North title for the first time since 2009.
The team then got slated to go up against the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs, arguably the hottest team during the second half of the season. The Vikings should have won their playoff opener and it is still hard for all the players to believe their season is now over after a one-point loss.
“There definitely is (positivity), but I think there is probably a lot more disappointment this year,” said safety Harrison Smith. “I think a lot of guys felt like we left something on the table, where last year there wasn’t. We knew we weren’t in the playoffs. So it definitely feels like we left something out there.”
While it may be hard to look past this loss, the Vikings exceeded many people’s expectations. Almost no one expected them to have the type of season that they did.
“You can’t take away from the season that we had. Nobody expected us to be where we were,” said wide receiver Jarius Wright. “With the opportunity that we had (Sunday) we could have proved even more people wrong, I guess you can say, so I think we exceeded people’s expectations. Not ours in here because we expected to be there. We expected to win. And that’s how we are around here.”
Dating all the way back to organized team activities in May when the starting offense and defense was able to go up against one another, Wright knew that they had a chance to have a good season.
He was not the only player to feel that way. There were a lot of players throughout the locker room who were proud of what the team was able to accomplish throughout the season and feel that the playoff loss, no matter how heart-breaking it was, won’t diminish the progress.
“It don’t take away from the good things. Not at all,” said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “We still played great. We won the NFC North. We still had a great year. But at the same time you don’t want to go out like that.”
For some players in the locker room, losing the way they did, with the game in hand, masks a lot of what they were able to accomplish this season. As time continues to roll on, those players might be able to look back on this season differently.
But a day after the heart-breaking loss, that is all that really stands out to them.
“Yeah (it masks the good things) because we played good on all teams,” said wide receiver Stefon Diggs. “Like all teams, everybody played extremely well all year. So just to come up short like that, because we overcame so much, hurts a little bit. But some guys just let it be the fuel to your fire in the offseason. Come back and work, come back and be better than we were before.”
Using this loss as motivation was probably the most common theme throughout the locker room. Most players talked about how they were going to use this loss to push them through the offseason to work harder and be better next season.
They were all clearly upset by the loss and none of them want to experience something like that again. They are going to head home, work hard in the offseason and be more ready than ever to return next season.
“It’s hard to forget about it. Definitely I use it as motivation,” said running back Adrian Peterson. “You take the negative things and you look at it and you take all the positives out of it you can. It will be motivation for us, something for us to build on. At the end of the day we lost and we know that we were the better team. We were able to see a light in ourselves that we knew we had, just confirmation so there’s a lot to take out of it.”