MINNEAPOLIS - Dalvin Cook might have said it best about the atmosphere at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday as the Minnesota Vikings started practice ahead of the NFC Wild Card Playoffs on Sunday against the New York Giants.
It is a different vibe, and it’s fun.
"Yeah, we’re in the playoffs. (Expletive), I’m hyped, ready to go. Playoff football man, (expletive)," Cook said. "I’ll make sure the guys are ready to go as much as I can. Looking forward to the environment on Sunday, can’t skip the process though."
Cuss words aside, there is a new energy and intensity around the Vikings’ practice facility as they get ready to host their first NFC Playoff game since the "Minneapolis Miracle." There’s a sense of urgency, because if they don’t beat the Giants, the work that went into winning their first NFC North Division title since 2017 doesn’t mean all that much.
Kirk Cousins is in his fifth season in Minnesota. He’s 6-19 for his career in games that start after 3 p.m., and he’s won one playoff game with the Vikings. Sunday’s game is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
"I think playoffs always bring an excitement that’s great to have. I think that intensity and that sense of urgency is what makes the playoffs fun. It’s a fun challenge to know that it’s win or go home," Cousins said. "There’s a competitive thrill there that’s fun about that. It’s so important when you have a home playoff game that you take advantage of it."
The Vikings went 8-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium this season. One of those eight was a 27-24 win over the Giants on Christmas Eve, thanks to a career-long 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph as time expired.
Cousins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns in that game. Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson had a combined 25 catches for 242 yards and all three scores. Sunday will mark Hockenson’s first career playoff game after being traded to Minnesota from Detroit earlier this year.
"If we lose, we go home. That’s the biggest thing. Yeah there’s a sense of intensity with it, there’s a sense of focus that comes with it and making sure everybody is doing their job," Hockenson said. "We’re an uncommon group and that’s what we’re going to try to prove."
Focus, understanding and urgency are the buzz words at TCO Performance Center this week. Several Vikings’ players, like Justin Jefferson, have never played in a playoff game. Others, like Chandon Sullivan, Adam Thielen and Za’Darius Smith and Harrison Phillips have been there before.
Even Kevin O’Connell, less than a year removed from winning a Super Bowl, is now going through it for the first time as a head coach. They’re 11-0 in one-score games this season, and have had three blowout losses. There’s now no longer another week to correct things if they start slow, and don’t beat the Giants.
"Understand that the urgency and understanding how much confidence we have in ourselves and what we’ve accomplished this year needs to go into our preparation and understand the opportunity we have in front of us this week," O’Connell said. "Do not worry about anything else beyond Sunday at 3:30."
GARRETT BRADBURY RETURNS TO PRACTICE
The Vikings started practice on Wednesday, and Garrett Bradbury was on the field, as were Za’Darius Smith and Harrison Smith. Bradbury has missed five straight games with a back injury. Harrison Smith had a knee contusion, and Za’Darius Smith didn’t play at Chicago due to personal reasons. The only player not at practice was defensive back Cam Dantzler, due to a personal matter.
The plan is to ramp up as the week gets closer to kickoff, and pads will go on Thursday. O’Connell will see how Bradbury feels throughout the week leading up to Sunday. Blake Brandel has also been designated to return from injured reserve, and could play Sunday. That would give a makeshift offensive line more depth, a big help against a strong Giants’ front.
The Vikings advance to the divisional playoffs with a win Sunday, and you can watch the game on Fox 9.