On Dec. 20 against the Carolina Panthers, Vikings coaches pulled McKinnie in the second half after the left tackle struggled against defensive end Julius Peppers. McKinnie, who ended up making the Pro Bowl for the first time in his eight-year career, surrendered a sack, had a holding call and a false-start penalty before being replaced by Artis Hicks.
"Wow, I had one game and I didn't do good," McKinnie said. "Really if you look at the film, he got a sack on me. Other than that, I got a holding call that … not really sure if that was holding. Then I had an offsides and that was basically because our center didn't hear the cadence and me and (right tackle Phil Loadholt) took off, so it made it look like I was all panicky about (Peppers), but I wasn't."
McKinnie and the Vikings returned to the Winter Park practice facility Sunday to begin preparations for the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. For McKinnie, that means he will be seeing Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks in the regular season, a good amount.
McKinnie said he will likely be responsible for right defensive end Igor Olshansky, but Ware is often brought on blitzes. Linebacker Anthony Spencer can also move over to McKinnie's side of the field. During Saturday's wild card game against the Eagles, Ware had two sacks, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble, and Spencer had a sack and two tackles for a loss.
"The thing to realize is that he (Ware) has the capability to rush from both sides, and he does," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "I know he's listed as the guy that stands on the left side of the offense, right side of the defense, but he shows up a good bit over on the other side, and then he and Spencer will show up together from time to time. So where you have an opportunity to help, you're going to help, and if he's not there, you may or may not help."
Helping McKinnie was an issue in the Carolina game, and coaches took some responsibility for not doing that often enough.
Despite his struggles against Peppers, McKinnie said if he had to play general manager of a team and choose between the Peppers and Ware, he'd choose the latter since he is younger.
But the timing of McKinnie going against Peppers also had something to do with his performance. The game before Carolina, the Vikings faced the Cincinnati Bengals. During the Westwood One radio broadcast of the Bengals game, former Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli said that Bengals defenders picked up on a "tell" in McKinnie's stance that helped them diagnose a run or a pass before the snap of the ball. Clearly, the dissemination of that information affected McKinnie.
Days after that game, McKinnie said he knew he had a "tell," but he wasn't aware other teams had picked up on it. He was determined to change his stance, but after his struggles with Peppers he has decided to go back to a more comfortable stance.
"I was trying to do something and it didn't work," McKinnie said. "I know not to do it no more, just adjusting my feet and all that stuff. So what if they know if it's a run or pass? Instead of putting myself in an uncomfortable stance, just let them play."
And there is another advantage McKinnie sees this Sunday. He is playing in front of the home crowd and doesn't have to worry about crowd noise as much when the Vikings are on offense.
"There's a difference, too, when you're home and away. That makes a big difference," he said. "It'll be a different feel because I'll actually be able to hear and then all that other stuff that I was doing before …"
Well, he can block it out and focus on playing up to his newfound Pro Bowl standing.
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has 628 yards receiving and nine touchdown catches in five career playoff games, the highest totals in a player's first five playoff games, according to Elias.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.