MINNEAPOLIS - Since being hired shortly after winning his first Super Bowl last February, Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell had one goal going into the 2022 season: Win the NFC North Division title.
It’s something they hadn’t done since 2017, but they accomplished that goal after making the greatest comeback in NFL history, coming back from down 33-0 to beat the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime. The Vikings earned themselves at least one home game in the NFC Playoffs, and that comes this Sunday in a Christmas Eve rematch against the New York Giants.
It’ll be the Vikings’ first home playoff game since the "Minneapolis Miracle" in 2018. The sentiment from O’Connell and players on Monday was to treat each week like a one-game season. It’s now the playoffs, and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
"Our goal coming out of training camp was to win our division, give ourselves an opportunity to host a playoff game and then really start talking about what the goal is now," O’Connell said. "You’re in the tournament, but it is so important to stay laser-focused week in and week out. You’ve got to treat every single week truly as a one-week season because if you don’t, there’s a good chance your season is going to be over."
The Vikings haven’t won a playoff game since 2019 in New Orleans, when Kirk Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph for a game-winning touchdown in overtime. This year’s Vikings won 13 games for just the third time in franchise history, won 11 games by one possession and feel battle-tested going into the playoffs.
They feel it’s their time to make a run.
"The biggest thing is that we just play together. There’s no individuals that are just trying to do things for themselves. They buy into the program, buy into what KO is trying to teach us. We’re just playing for each other," Danielle Hunter said.
There’s a sense of urgency around TCO Performance Center in Eagan, and it’s only Monday. The players know there’s only one more guaranteed game. There’s no time for efforts like the ones put up at the Philadelphia Eagles, against the Dallas Cowboys or at Lambeau Field two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers.
If they don’t have their best game of the season Sunday against the Giants, they’re probably going home. On Christmas Eve, the Vikings needed a 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph to leave with a 27-24 win.
"It’s a one-week season. If you don’t come out and play well, the season is done. You don’t want to end your season off, especially the season we’re having right now, we have so much momentum that we know we’re capable to play with anybody," safety Cam Bynum said. "But if you don’t come out and play, the season is done."
The Vikings are one of seven teams left in the NFC, even if people across the country still don’t believe they can make a run.
"You’ve got to seize the moment when you’re given the opportunity. I’m not going to take it for granted, I’m going to work hard and I’m going to go out and show up," linebacker Eric Kendricks said.
KEVIN O’CONNELL HOPING TO GET GARRETT BRADBURY BACK FOR PLAYOFFS
O’Connell said Monday it’s his hope that Garrett Bradbury will be on the field Sunday afternoon against the Giants. Bradbury has missed five straight games with a back injury, including Sunday’s win at Chicago. Chris Reed took over at center, and with Brian O’Neill on injured reserve, Oli Udoh played at right tackle.
O’Connell said the plan is for Bradbury to return to practice on Wednesday in a limited capacity, and see how he feels from there.
"Ultimately I just want Garrett to give it a go and see if he can turn the corner and possibly help us. At the same time, I don’t want put him in a position where he may not be at his best," O’Connell said.
Dalvin Cook, who took a cleat to his knee Sunday, is fine and expected to be full-go for practice this week.