An NFL season rarely, if ever, sticks to a script written in July before players report to training camp.
Narratives too often become fixated on best-case scenarios when, in reality, chances are greater that plans will get blown to smithereens by November.
“You have adversity through the season all the time,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “People get hurt, things don’t go your way. You just have to learn how to deal with it.”
Through two games, the Vikings are proof that success is often determined not by how teams fare when they’re at their best, but by how they respond when a crisis hits.
The organization spent the entire offseason anticipating a more comfortable and productive working relationship between Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. It all sounded encouraging.
Those plans were tucked away after Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury on a routine drop-back in practice.
Once the shock wore off, conversation turned to Peterson and his ability to carry the offense.
Well, on to Plan C.
A magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday revealed that Peterson suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee vs. the Packers. Mike Zimmer did not provide many details about severity or timetable for Peterson’s return, but the injury realistically could cost him games.
Peterson has been largely invisible the first two weeks, primarily because his offensive line is getting pushed around and not creating any running lanes for him.
Losing a player of Peterson’s stature isn’t insignificant, regardless of his paltry rushing totals this season. And yet the NFL shows no mercy. Good teams persevere.
“I don’t want to say you just plug in the next guy because you don’t replace Teddy or Adrian as people and what they bring to the locker room,” safety Harrison Smith said. “But you don’t want to hang your head and say, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ You’ve just got to push forward.”
Injuries are the NFL’s great equalizer. They are inevitable and nondiscriminatory. Every team encounters them. Some just handle them better than others.
Whether dealing with injuries, suspensions or other internal drama, successful teams manage those situations without allowing them to sabotage their season.
The Patriots began the season with Tom Brady serving a suspension but won at Arizona with backup Jimmy Garoppolo looking more than capable. And now Garoppolo is sidelined because of a shoulder injury.
Think Bill Belichick will make excuses or allow players to feel sorry for themselves?
Zimmer has taken a similar approach with his players. He continues to stress team, team, team.
“To us, I don’t know if we even see it as adversity,” Smith said. “Everything is not going to go your way all the time. You have to fight through it.”
Some teams handle setbacks better than others for myriad reasons, not the least of which is coaching. Players take cues from their leader, so if a coach acts panicky when adversity strikes, forget it.
Zimmer has conveyed a defiant tone and message from the moment Bridgewater fell to the ground clutching his knee.
“With our coach, he’s crazy,” Munnerlyn said, smiling, “but it comes from the top. Got to come from your leadership, and it starts with your coaches.”
Good coaches have schemes that mitigate personnel losses. Zimmer’s defense neutralized Aaron Rodgers despite playing without top cornerback Xavier Rhodes and starting tackle Sharrif Floyd. Nor did Sam Bradford play like a quarterback still learning a new offense.
Better depth of talent is a testament to General Manager Rick Spielman’s personnel decisions in constructing his roster.
“It’s not often that you get on a football team that when you bring in a second guy, there’s not much of drop-off,” defensive end Brian Robison said.
Even so, this has been a wacky start to the season, even by NFL standards. The Vikings have been turned upside-down and yet they’re 2-0.
Handling adversity is a critical component to success. Smooth sailing rarely exists. The best teams cope and improvise.
So far, the Vikings have shown that capability.
“We’ll keep fighting,” Zimmer said.