Getaway day for NFL players is always a difficult one. If a player has been around any period of time, he knows that when the locker room clears out after the last game of the season it will be the last time that group will be together.
It happens every year, but the way it happened this year was very different than previous years because none of the players envisioned that their 2015 season would be over until the missed field goal in the final seconds.
This one was a hard pill to swallow for the Minnesota Vikings and, a day later, the players still didn’t seem quite past it.
“It hurts,” running back Jerick McKinnon said. “Obviously, it’s not the way we wanted to go out. As you look back on the memories of the season, there’s a lot to be proud about. We have to take the loss and move on and now it’s time to hit the offseason and get better for next year.”
Some Vikings were so confident they had Seattle’s number, despite a 38-7 loss to the Seahawks in December, that they weren’t concerning themselves with the potential of a season-ending loss. They were so convinced they were going to change the outcome of the first meeting between teams that they didn’t do their typical nearing-the-end-of-season rituals.
“I hadn’t even packed my house yet,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I knew this was going to be a different ballgame than it was last time. It was definitely different and I definitely thought we had a chance of moving on. They were the NFC champions. It’s a tough situation. We knew they were going to be a tough team. We knew they had a great defense and an explosive offense. We knew it was a tough task ahead and we played a great game. We just fell a little short in the end.”
The morning after, the shock and awe of the loss still hadn’t fully set in. Many of the players still seemed to be in disbelief, as if it was a bad dream they were waking up from.
Safety Harrison Smith spoke in soft tones and seemed disconnected from the conversation because his bewilderment at how the game finished remained.
“It still stings,” Smith said. “It still feels like it just happened. We’ve got move on. The season’s over, but you take it with you to next year. We did a lot of good things, but we didn’t do enough things to win. We didn’t reach our goals of moving forward in the playoffs, but I think we have a younger team and getting there and getting some experience can help us in the future.”
One of the biggest problems the Vikings are having trouble coping with isn’t that they lost, it’s how they lost.
When it comes to the ramped up intensity of the playoffs, losing a heartbreaking game on a missed game-winning field attempt is more difficult to handle than if Seattle had replicated the beating they handed down a month earlier.
“I’d rather get blown out than lose a game like that,” Munnerlyn said. “Show me that you’re better than me. They got the win, don’t get me wrong, but it’s tough to swallow that pill.”
However long it’s going to take for the players to get over the loss to the Seahawks, it’s going to be an individual process. Some will get past it quicker than others. Some may not ever get rid of it – Pat Williams likely still holds a grudge against the Saints six years later.
But, the reality is that eventually they will get past it. Perhaps getting past it is just as important as getting over it.
“It is what it is,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We should have won that game, I feel, but it didn’t happen. Hats off to Seattle. They did it for four quarters. They fought and you’re going to win games in the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, I think the thing we have to do right now is take this loss, let it sink in and not feel this way anymore.”