In the world of the NFL, the goal is to keep an even keel throughout the season. Don’t get too full of yourself when things are going well and don’t let the bad times get the better of you.
Few teams have experienced the roller coaster of emotion this season more than the Minnesota Vikings. From being lauded as the No. 1 team in the league when they were the last undefeated team to being written off and dismissed, the Vikings have experienced both ends of the spectrum like few other teams this season.
The feeling at this point is to keep the faith and get back to doing what got them the respect earlier in the season. The Vikings have proved they can string together a bunch of wins and, for veterans like Chad Greenway, they take solace that, in 2012, when the rest of the world was writing off the Vikings after 12 games, they got on a roll and proved their skeptics wrong.
“I think we’re fine, honestly,” Greenway said. “It’s the NFL. It’s part of it. You guys have been around long enough to know that good things still can happen to teams that are in our situation. We were 6-6 in 2012 and won four in a row and made the playoffs. I don’t know if anybody wanted to play us. We were playing as well as anyone and I think we can reference that team a lot. We won some games we should’ve won. Then we went to Houston which ended up being the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and we went down there and put it to them. So, we’re capable in this building with this mentality to just continue to play this game.”
When the Vikings were rolling early, they weren’t counting their wins and resting on past accomplishments. They were looking ahead at their next opponent with blinders on. The same is true now as the team looks to pull itself back onto the winning track.
The Vikings are far from alone. While it is difficult to erase the memory of potential wins they let slip through their fingers, an NFL season consists of 16 chapters – each unique to itself.
It doesn’t matter what they did last week when the game is over. It’s what they do the next week that matters.
“In the NFL, it’s about survival,” Greenway said. “It’s a marathon and you have to continue just to push. It’s a mentality. You can’t get too up and too down. That’s why it has to be a one-week season. I think we’ve done a good job of doing that, even though we’ve taken some really tough losses. We haven’t played well in some critical situations, which is really tough to handle. I think it makes it really emotionally tough on you after a loss, just knowing that you didn’t execute in those situations. We don’t want that to be our season. We have five games left. We can rewrite that. We want to take advantage of that this week.”
While fans can get despondent or jump off the bandwagon – it’s what fans do. But, for the players, letting their mind get into the ups and downs of a season simply doesn’t fly.
When a season is done, they can point back to what made or broke their season, but, at the time it’s happening, they’re only focused on the here and now. Because of that, the Vikings take heart in knowing that they have five games to reclaim their season and that in itself is reason enough to keep fighting and keep hope alive.
“I think we’re doing a good job of continuing to stay positive and not live in the past and just live it week by week and just take it one week at a time,” safety Andrew Sendejo said. “You just try to win this week and then, when this week is over, we’ll go on to the next week. I think that’s how we’ve done it every week. I don’t think we’ve ever come in after a loss and still been pouting about last week’s game. That’s how it is in the league. You’ve got to move onto the next week. You can’t live in the past.”
The defense has more than held up its end of the bargain. The team is allowing just 17 points a game, which, when extended for as many games as the Vikings have done it, should win them a lot of games.
For those defenders, it is a badge of honor and what has come to define this team over the last couple of seasons.
“The guys aren’t getting down from this,” defensive tackle Shamar Stephen said. “There’s some frustration, but that happens when you lose games. You see a play here or there that could have been different. All we can do is learn from the mistakes we’ve had, correct them and move forward.”
Remembering mistakes has always been a key element to any NFL player. If you forget your mistakes, you tend to repeat them. Remembering and correcting them is what separates bad teams from good teams and good teams from great teams.
If the Vikings are going to stake claim to a playoff spot, it’s going to require everyone executing at a high level and part of that is remembering the plays they missed and making a point not to let recent history repeat itself.
“You’re always going to do that regardless of how well you’ve played,” Sendejo said. “You’re always going to go back and wish you would have done something different on the plays they got. That’ll be like that for the rest of time. But we just need to improve and do a better job on third down, create turnovers get short fields for our offense, same things we try to do every week.’’
When it comes to Thursday’s game with the Dallas, the Vikings and Cowboys appear to be two teams heading in different directions, but, as the NFL proves on a weekly basis, the best team doesn’t always win games.
Dallas is going to be a road favorite Thursday and the Vikings know they will need to play as close to a perfect game – if there is such a thing – to snap the Cowboys’ 10-game winning streak.
In many ways, it’s a matter of pride for the coaches and players, coming up with a scheme that can get the job done.
“You’ve got to take everything into account and kind of see it as the whole picture,’ Greenway said. “We have to do what we do well. We’re pretty good at football, too, so we’ve got to be able to rely on that. We have good players just like they do. Defensively we feel good about what we’re going to be able to do against them, so it’s got to be a mix and match of a little bit of everything. You can’t just continue to pressure and get gashed in the run game. We’ll rely on our staff to obviously put together a great plan, which they already have, and then on game day obviously we think that we’ve got the best signal-caller in the game. So we’ve got to rely on him and just go play our brand of ball.”
The reality of the Vikings’ situation is that, over the long haul, they weren’t as good as their 5-0 record to start the season would have indicated and they’re not as bad as they’ve been in their 1-5 stretch over the last six. Reality lands somewhere in between.
The Vikings had several chances to put away Detroit and, in doing so, the team would be building momentum back and have a lot more people thinking they have a legitimate chance to defeat Dallas on Thursday.
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If the Vikings get on a roll and make the playoffs, this stretch will become a distant memory for a game played in the here and now. But, to get there, it starts now and will have to carry them through because, in the NFL, what is past is always prologue until a season ends.
“There’s no magical thing you can do to change it,” Greenway said. “You’re going to be down because you took a loss. You know where you’re at in the season after starting 5-0. We know all those things that have been reported or talked about. We know we didn’t play well at critical times against Detroit and let them off the deal. We just have to keep playing. It happens to everybody. We’re not the only team that’s going through stuff like this. We just have to continue to push and focus on these next five. It can’t be about the previous 11. Everything we want to do is still in front of us. We just need some help now. Crazy things happen. We’ve seen that. Why can’t we be the team to put these next five together or get four out of five or whatever we need? We’ve got to just keep thinking that mentality and keep coming to work and doing our thing and focus on those small tasks that are going to make us better in those situations and I think we can do it.”