On Dec. 7, the Monday after the 38-7 loss to Seattle, the Vikings had to practice because they had a Thursday night game in Arizona that week. The number of safeties on the active roster to practice that day totaled zero.
“I remember that day,” strong safety Andrew Sendejo said after Sunday night’s 49-17 playoff-clinching victory over the Giants at TCF Bank Stadium. “It’s good to be healthy again. And it’s really good to have No. 22 [Harrison Smith] back out there again.”
Twenty-two days after the Vikings had to promote safety Anthony Harris from the practice squad and 20 days after having to start him and cornerback Terence Newman at the two safety positions, the Vikings played Sunday night’s game with their preferred starters at safety. Smith had missed three of the past four games and all but 10 snaps in the fourth because of a knee/hamstring injury.
How’d they do? Well, at the four-minute mark of the second quarter, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had completed five passes. Three of them went to his receivers for 62 yards. The other two went to Sendejo and Smith for 44 yards, including the play of the game, Smith’s 35-yard pick-six, which gave the Vikings a 16-3 lead and a soul-crushing two-score lead over a Giants team that looked cold and had already been eliminated from the playoffs a day earlier.
“Harrison made a great play; on my interception, [cornerback] Xavier [Rhodes] made the great play,” Sendejo said. “Great coverage by him to deflect the ball. I just happened to be standing there when the ball popped up in the air.”
The score was 0-0 when the Giants crossed midfield after forcing the Vikings to punt on their first two possessions. But the momentum was snuffed out when Rhodes blanketed Hakeem Nicks, the receiver who got the start in place of the suspended Odell Beckham Jr.
On Smith’s interception, he was playing deep middle and reading Manning’s eyes. Those eyes led him to Rueben Randle along the left sideline. The ball was overthrown, which made Smith’s 12th career pick relatively easy.
“And you know Harrison,” Sendejo said. “When he gets the ball in his hands, he usually finds a way into the end zone.”
He did. Untouched. Five defenders were blocking for him when he got inside the 10. More than five defenders were razzing him about what happened next when he tried to throw the ball with his left hand, only to have it slip out of his hand like former Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian (Google it).
“You’re comparing me to a kicker?” Smith said.
On the throw, yeah.
“Fair enough,” he said.
“He whiffed on the fastball,” Sendejo said.
The Vikings had a third interception. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had a 32-yard return, but was forced out at the Giants 4-yard line.
Smith, who set the team record with his fourth career interception return for a touchdown, gave Munnerlyn grief for not reaching the end zone.
“He was giving me a hard time,” Munnerlyn said. “There was a minute left in the game and he was still talking about it. ‘I’m about to catch you. You say you’re the pick-six king. I got four now and I got the team record and you’re still stuck on five [career interception returns for touchdowns].’ Man, I got to see what I’m doing wrong.
“But,” Munnerlyn added, “It is good to have him back.”