With all the problems the Minnesota Vikings have suffered through over the last 10 games of the season, it seems the pain is as bad or worse for the guys who aren’t out there. As painful as losing is for football players, coaches have often said that the best ability of a player is his availability.
Unfortunately for defensive tackle Tom Johnson, he has been sidelined with a hamstring injury that was given a five- to six-week recovery period – well past the end the Vikings 2016 season.
As a competitor, worse than his injury has been being away from his teammates.
“I’ve got my guys out there,” Johnson said. “We’ve been there pounding all year and for me not to be there to hold up on my role of the game and perform, it’s kind of disappointing. It’s coming along, but torn hamstrings take time to heal.”
His injury has allowed Johnson to take a step back and see the bigger picture of the season, as opposed to being in the eye of the hurricane as a player preparing for the next game.
When you’re inside the vacuum of an NFL locker room, there isn’t much time to celebrate wins or get down when you lose. The next game is coming in seven days and you have to be ready because the league doesn’t stop to let players heal up or lick their wounds.
“You just keep going,” Johnson said. “The next week is going to come regardless, whether you’re ready for it or not. You’re supposed to put it in the back of your head, move forward, prepare for the next opponent and try to dominate and do your best. That’s the only thing you can do. You can’t worry about the past because it’s already set in.”
Last Saturday’s loss to Green Bay set in the finality of the Vikings’ fading playoff hopes as the losses continued to mount. Everyone was able to come to the realization that, while playoff teams tend to play their best in December, the Vikings didn’t.
Considering the combination of expectations and a fast start to the season, the Vikings had hopes of battling for home field in the playoffs, not being on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin. The bigger issue for the team isn’t the fact they have lost eight of their last 10 games, it’s that they’ve been their own worst enemy in many of their losses.
“It’s frustrating,” Johnson said. “You can tell from the coaches to the guys. We had high expectations coming into this season. Even with the injuries, even with the situation we were put in, we still felt we had the opportunity to go out there and make big plays and win those games. We feel like, out of all 15 games we’ve played, of the ones we’ve lost is because of us. It wasn’t like the other team dominated us. They made big plays, because we were in bad situations we had coming – missed assignments, things of that nature.”
When the Vikings finished 7-9 in Mike Zimmer’s first season as head coach in 2014, the season ended with a lot of promise as the team played some of its best games down the stretch and finished on a high note.
If the Vikings finish 7-9 this season, it will be viewed as an unqualified disaster. When Zimmer took over the roster, many of them were players he inherited, not players he brought into the team.
This time around, especially given how dominant the defense was early, the frustration has been hard to understand or ignore.
“We didn’t expect that – nobody expected that, especially how hot we hit the ground running the first five games,” Johnson said. “It just goes so fast, we couldn’t stop the bleeding. It was disappointing.”
The saving grace to end the season would be a win over Chicago that would end the season on an uptick as opposed to the numerous down weeks the Vikings have had since mid-October.
While the game won’t impact any postseason scenarios, Johnson believes there are plenty of reasons to win the season finale.
“It’s a divisional game,” Johnson said. “We’re going to see them twice next year. It builds morale – the guys have been losing – and gets us to .500. We want to end on a great note, we don’t want to end on a bad note. We already know that this season has been a disappointing situation. We had high expectations of where we wanted to be at and set a high standard for us for the rest of the year. To end on a good note would be good for the team.”