As Vikings players cleaned out their lockers Monday and met with the media one more time before a long offseason, a theme emerged from this year: Take nothing for granted.
That’s a life lesson as much as a football lesson, but it was particularly apt for these Vikings (and their fan base) on a couple of fronts.
• First, the field goal. Let’s talk about it because Blair Walsh did. Twice. And with a great deal of humility, perspective and grace.
In the decade that Ryan Longwell (six seasons) and Walsh (four seasons) have kicked for the Vikings, there were only two instances before Sunday in which the Vikings lost because a kicker missed a potential game-winning kick in the waning seconds of regulation or overtime:
In 2007, when Longwell missed a 52-yarder at the end of regulation in a 17-17 game against Detroit, which the Lions won in overtime. And in 2014, when Walsh was tasked with attempting a 68-yarder against Detroit. It would have been an NFL record if he made it. He didn’t, and the Vikings lost 16-14.
That’s it. One long field goal and one absurdly long field goal. All the other dramatic finishes when the Vikings needed a kick to win … those split the uprights.
As for Walsh? In his career in the regular season, he’s 30-for-31 on field goals between 20 and 29 yards.
Sunday hurts plenty on its own, but it hurts extra because of just how rare it was. But again, nothing can be taken for granted.
• Second, the notion veterans were hammering home with the young core of this team: Just because this appears to be a team on the rise doesn’t guarantee the Vikings will be able to duplicate or surpass this year’s achievements going forward.
Brian Robison and Adrian Peterson talked about it Monday. Both came into the league with the Vikings in 2007. Both have made the playoffs four times — including two of their first three years — winning a total of one playoff game.
Captain Munnerlyn had a similar message, saying Monday: “I was trying to just explain to some of the guys that you don’t get these opportunities often.”
Indeed. In every year from 2010-14, there were at least six teams that won 11 games and made the playoffs, as the Vikings did this year. And in each case, at least two of those teams failed to make the playoffs the following season.
That’s the nature of the NFL. This year’s breakthrough team can be next year’s flop. Tougher schedules, increased scrutiny and expectations … they can wear on a team.
Coach Mike Zimmer seems fully capable of keeping the Vikings on track, but once more: Take nothing for granted.