There is something to be said about the emotions surrounding playoff games. The NFL is a sport that is built on emotion and momentum. That was evident in the wild card weekend of the playoffs. In all four games, the teams that eventually won were the teams that got the early momentum on their side. Dallas scored 27 points in the second quarter to blow open their game with the Eagles, the Ravens built a 24-0 first-quarter lead over the Patriots, the Jets scored two touchdowns in the span of six minutes in the second quarter and never looked back, and Arizona built a 17-0 lead that, while challenged by the Packers, was never overcome in the Cardinals' 51-45 overtime win.
Many Vikings veterans noted last year against the Eagles in the playoffs that the Metrodome crowd was as loud as they could ever remember. The tension was high – both in the stands and on the field.
But as the Vikings prepare for the Cowboys Sunday at the Metrodome, it will be the first playoff game for five key Vikings players – rookies Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt and Jasper Brinkley and second-year player (first-year starter) John Sullivan. For them, the playoff experience will be new.
"I just talked to Jared Allen about how different a playoff game is," Sanford said. "I'm excited to experience it. He said it's a totally different ballgame. The crowd is into it like the beginning of a regular-season game and they never get out of it. They stay into it for all four quarters. I'm excited to play in an atmosphere like that with the tempo jacked up a notch."
Loadholt said the bye week was great for the players, but they're ready to get back to the business at hand – achieving their preseason goal of getting to Miami for the Super Bowl.
"I think it's going to be really exciting," Loadholt said of the buildup to Sunday's game. "I'm looking forward to it. I've been waiting for awhile. We had some time to relax. It feels good to be back out there and be game-planning and getting back into the routine for the game."
Those who have been through the high anxiety that surrounds postseason games have taken the time to pull aside the youngsters and try to explain what they will be facing. In Brinkley's case, he said both Ben Leber and Chad Greenway have given him the 411 on what to expect."
"They've told me to be ready," Brinkley said. "Everything is turned up a level. The tempo is going to be really high and I'll have to be ready. I will be."
Quarterback Brett Favre made a point to pull Harvin aside with some advice. Given Favre's long history of playoff football, Harvin said he listened to what he had to say, which, in short, was to not make the playoff game out to be more than the other 16 games they have played to date.
"He said just play it like it's a regular (season) game," Harvin said. "If you get caught up in the hype, you'll start doing things you don't ordinarily do. This whole team is approaching (Dallas) like we have approached every game before this. I've studied a little bit more, but we're going to try to keep things the same … as much as we can."
Sullivan was in uniform for last year's playoff game even though he backed up veteran Matt Birk. He said that experience prepared him somewhat for what he's going to be facing Sunday, but added that he doesn't see any massive switch in his mindset other than the pressure of being in a one-and-out format.
"I don't feel that it's any different," Sullivan said. "I know that it's win or go home. But right now it feels like any other Wednesday. It's business as usual. You hear some guys say you get ramped up for the playoffs. At least from my perspective, I always play as hard as I can, so it won't be any different."
For guys like Sullivan and Loadholt, their primary objective is going to keep the swarming Dallas defense off of Favre. With his postseason experience, if Favre is afforded time in the pocket he will have the chance to pick apart the Cowboys defense. Loadholt said the Cowboys aren't going to disguise their primary objective – getting to Favre before he has time to survey the field and find a weakness in the play call.
"There's no question that they'll be coming after him," Loadholt said. "Teams have been doing that all year. It's our job to keep him clean."
It may have seemed easy for some of the young players that weren't around when the Vikings struggled through a 6-10 and 8-8 season in the first two years under Brad Childress, but they have been incorporated into the group by the veteran players, which makes what they have accomplished as a unit even more impressive and has brought the players – both young and old – together as one.
"l know this is hard to come by and this team, we're grateful for each other," Harvin said. "Our locker room, just the way we hang out outside of things, you don't see that very often, so I'm cherishing every bit of it. At the time, I'm preparing myself mentally."
For the four young Vikings in the starting lineup, Sunday will be the first of what they hope will be many postseason games. In a season of firsts for all of them, this will be the biggest first of them all. They are all going to be in same boat once the whistle blows and, if any of them were viewed as first-year guys during the season, this is money time and they expect to hang shoulder to shoulder with the veterans in trying to earn a victory that will get them to the doorstep of their ultimate goal.
"This is what you dream about when you come to the NFL," Harvin said. "It's lose or go home. We've got a lot of veterans who have been there before and some young guys here for the first time. We're all going to be ready and all of us will be good to go once the game starts."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings veterans coaching playoff rookies
Viking Update Top Stories
Notebook: Problems extended beyond pass proThe Minnesota Vikings had obvious problems with pass protection, but there are other areas head coach Mike Zimmer is addressing, too.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:41 PM
Vikings will look at ‘all options’ to improveComing off a loss that Mike Zimmer termed “embarrassing,” a 21-10 defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings will look at all options to rectify the situation.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:42 PM
VIDEO: Zimmer: 'This is a gut-check day'Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer recapped the first loss of the season by pointing out "several dumb things" he found to be uncharacteristic of his team.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 1:06 PM
Counting snaps: Vikings vs. EaglesDespite a “soft” performance on the offensive line, according to coach Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings seemed interested in getting a rotation going there.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 6:23 AM