Packers week. It was something Vikings center John Sullivan was pushing hard for in his rehab from back surgery.
Too hard, as it turned out, unfortunately.
“It was disappointing because we were following the protocol,” Sullivan said. “We were trying to go fast, accelerate the recovery from an injury like this because there was a chance of coming back and playing this year. Unfortunately, we just got unlucky is what it comes down to.”
Today, Sullivan is taking things nice and slow. His season, which never got started, is over. He’s now four weeks and three days removed from his second back surgery.
“It was the exact same injury,” Sullivan said. “We literally cut through the old scar. So we’re being more cautious this time. We really don’t want to have another recurrence.”
Sullivan was in the weight room doing his rehab work when the relapse occurred.
“I wouldn’t change anything about what I was doing,” he said. “I was trying to do everything I could to try and come back as strong as possible to help the team win. Now, I’m just focusing on my recovery. All indications point to I’ll make a 100 percent full recovery.”
Placed on injured reserve before the start of the season, Sullivan was eligible to practice in Week 7 and resume playing in Week 9.
“My return [next season] is not even in question,” Sullivan said. “It’s very difficult because a lot of people can talk and people can have experience with back surgeries, but unless you’re one of our training staff or our orthopedic doctors or my spinal surgeon, you just really don’t have any idea. So it’s all just conjecture. I’ve been assured that I should make a 100 percent full recovery.
“I’m not going anywhere. I 100 percent plan on being a Minnesota Viking in the future. I guarantee you I will be playing football next year.”
Now that he knows his season is over, the hardest part for Sullivan is sitting and watching on game day.
“It hurts you so bad to not be a part of it because you want to be out there and helping the team,” Sullivan said. “But at the same time, you can’t help but watch the team on Sunday and be proud of these guys and the way they’re playing.”
The Vikings would prefer to have Sullivan at center. But they’re also happy they targeted veteran backup Joe Berger as a priority re-signing in free agency this spring. According to Pro Football Focus, Berger ranks third among NFL centers with a plus-12.1 rating, including a Week 10-best plus-5.3 as the Vikings ran for 263 yards in a 30-14 victory over the Raiders.
“The offensive line has really stepped up,” Sullivan said. “Obviously, we need to step up and find our stride a little bit on offense and score more points. But the guys are out there battling. The O-line is such a group of fighters.”
Sullivan also said he doesn’t need to see any stats to tell him how quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is playing.
“Teddy is playing really well, and I don’t care what stats say, what the yards say, what this and that says,” Sullivan said. “A team and players need to pass the eye test. And when you put the tape on, Teddy is why we’re winning these games. Special teams have played well and Zim [coach Mike Zimmer] has the defense right up there with the best in the league, if not the best in the league.”
Speaking of stats and numbers, Sullivan said, “I do think there is a place for analytics in football.” However, as he said, “When you try to judge players and the game based only on stats, the sample size in the NFL is so small compared to a sport like baseball, where over the course of 162 games you really do get a sense of the whole story based on the statistics of the season.”
Football is different, obviously.
“So you really have to look at who plays well in big moments,” Sullivan said. “Which teams are skilled at winning close games. And that’s one of the big things about the Vikings and why we’re [7-2]. Winning close games as a team is a skill. If you can win those, you can go a long way.
“But the team does need to start winning games by more than a couple of points. I’m going to have a heart attack having to sit and watch these games.”