The Minnesota Vikings likely want to get the month of September over with. In the span of less than a month at the start of the long and grueling 16-game season, the team has been hobbled by significant losses, most recently the loss of future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson has witnessed the thinning of the depth of the roster and the loss of starters Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Kalil. The Peterson loss hits hard because, for a lot of the young offensive players, there is no bigger key to successful offense than Peterson.
Asked what Peterson represents to the offense, Johnson didn’t mince words.
“I think that’s easily said,” Johnson said. “Everybody knows what he represents to this team. He’s our leader. He’s our franchise player. He’s a guy we lean on a lot. He’s definitely going to be missed, but we’re going to keep him with us and hopefully he comes back sooner than later.”
Vikings players, coaches and front office have all be left numb by the experience of the last few weeks. Nobody could have envisioned that the offense would be gutted of three of its most critical players, but, the NFL season doesn’t stop for the Vikings to regroup.
There won’t be any pity parties outside of Winter Park. Other teams are going through similar injury problems, even if not as pronounced as the toll injuries have taken on the Vikings so far this season.
It’s all part of life in the NFL. One day you’re playing next to someone, the next day that player is gone and someone else is in his spot. It’s just how things work in pro football.
“There’s no room to feel sorry,” Johnson said. “It’s next man up. Now the other running back have to step up. They need to come in and contribute. The National Football League has a 100 percent injury rate. It doesn’t matter who your name is. Is doesn’t matter if you’re Teddy or Adrian. You can be the best player in the league. There’s a 100 percent injury rate in the NFL, so you’re going to get hurt at some point. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward and play Vikings football.”
It would have appeared that much of the hopes being pinned on the 2016 Vikings were centered on a strong defense that is recognized as one of the best in the NFL and the offense holding up its end of the bargain. Losing three of the key pieces to that puzzle have made that part of the bigger picture of consistently winning football more difficult, but not impossible.
Just as the offense rallied when Peterson was lost for almost all of the 2014 season, the same is expected this time around – even if the toll of losses is higher and more severe.
“Everybody has their own roles,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to continue do our own roles – what you do and what you’ve been doing. You don’t try to change things up just because one guy or two guys are gone – continue to do what you do every day.”
There is no panic among the Vikings players. For those who were around in 2014, there are still memories of the team coming together in times of trouble and bringing the best out of each other. Adversity can kill some teams. Others it makes stronger by going through the hard times.
The biggest advantage the 2016 Vikings have, according to Johnson, is that they have added more talent to the roster and more players are confident in the roles they’re being asked to play.
“We’ve got a few more pieces,” Johnson said. “We’ve got different guys. Every year there are going to be new guys that come in here. There are different pieces each and every day. We’ve just got to continue to go our there and grind, focus on ourselves and not worry about anything off the field or any other distractions. We’ve just got to continue play football at a high level.”
In the end, the injuries to Bridgewater, Peterson and Kalil are going to take a big toll. The only unknown is how the Vikings will respond and how those players who weren’t big component pieces of the original plan can step in, step up and make a difference.
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It’s never easy to lose star players, but the past can’t be changed. The present is all that matters and the future will play itself out.
“We know that injuries happen,” Johnson said. “That’s part of our game. We’ve just got to keep moving forward because we’ve got to pick things up and focus on playing Vikings football. That’s it.”