The perception of a team in the NFL can be drastically altered in a very short period of time. The Minnesota Vikings were getting a lot of national media attention heading into their bye week as the lone remaining unbeaten team in the league and were starting to be viewed as the frontrunner to have the type of season that Carolina had last year, where the ball started rolling early and picked up momentum.
That momentum hit a brick wall last week with the Vikings’ 21-10 loss at Philadelphia that exposed weaknesses on the offense and the special teams. Safety Harrison Smith was one of the players who was asked to address the problems that the team encountered coming out their bye and believes the best thing about the loss to the Eagles is that is in the rearview mirror and the focus is back on the next team up – the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
“A lot of people look back at games you had – good and bad – and make a lot more out of it than we do,” Smith said. “You can’t get caught up in that. When a game is over, you learn from it and move on to the next team. That wasn’t the team we know have out there on Sunday. Every team that loses a game feels that way. You can’t get too full of yourself when you win and you can’t let losses take away your focus on the bigger goal.”
To hear some of the discussion surrounding Sunday’s loss, you would think that the Emperor has discovered he has no clothes and that everyone else saw that before him.
Players don’t live that way. While film study of the Eagles game wasn’t pleasant, there is nothing that can change it. The good news for guys like Smith is that the next game is against a division rival that is critical to maintaining the advantage the Vikings built over their first five games of the season.
While the standard line remains the same – all games are important – when it comes to a divisional contest, the ante goes up.
“You try to treat every the game the same, but when it’s a division game – going to Detroit, Chicago or Lambeau – there’s a little more to it because it’s a rivalry,” Smith said. “When you come into any season, you’re first goal is to win your division because not only do you make the playoffs if you do, you get at least one game at home once you get there. That all starts by beating the teams in your division. We’ve got one already behind us and Chicago is the next stop. I think that’s why there’s a little extra when you play in those games because they count so much.”
There is always a little extra to divisional games because those teams meet twice a year every year. It goes without saying that the Packers, Lions and Bears can’t wait for Adrian Peterson to retire. But, for the most part, while the star players remain from one year to the next, NFL teams are constantly changing – Vikings fans know that all too well this season.
Smith is familiar with players like Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery and has learned a lot about them over the years, but the personnel between the Bears Smith saw as a rookie and saw last year isn’t the same as the Chicago team he is preparing for this week.
“Teams evolve over time, so the Bears team we played last year is quite a bit different than the one we’re going to play on Monday,” Smith said. “You build up knowledge of the things they like to do and the scheme they have. If you have the same coaching staff, you tend to stick to a lot of the same things that are successful, but the players change. The last time we played them, they had a lot of players who either weren’t there or have seen their role change. The same goes for us. All we do is try to bring the experience we have from previous games and previous years and use that to help us with the team they have now. It’s always different.”
There is likely to be a higher level of intensity for the Vikings heading into Soldier Field – a place where the football gods have historically smiled on the Bears when the Vikings come to town.
If they’re going to erase the memory of the loss in Philadelphia, the best thing they can do is get back on track against a Chicago team against which the Vikings believe they are better.
There isn’t reason to change things up, because the Vikings aren’t broken. Smith believes the next game is the most important game of the year – not because it’s going to make or break the 2016 season, but because it’s the next game on the schedule.
The team plans to stay the course because anything less wouldn’t be the team that has been forged in 2016.
“We’re not going to change what we do because the offense may have some struggles,” Smith said. “When you try to do too much, that’s when you make mistakes that allow for big plays against you. We take a lot of pride here that we can control the pace of the game and what happens out there on the field. It doesn’t always work out – it didn’t on Sunday – but we have a lot of talent on this team and I think our record shows that. If we stick to what we’ve been taught and keep focused on doing our own job within the system, we’ll be fine.”