So, who’s the Most Valuable Player of this top-ranked Vikings defense heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Philadelphia?
Not that the answer really matters or can be proven right or wrong but, hey, we need something to argue about between games, right?
“I think,” said first-team All-Pro Harrison Smith, “that I don’t know.”
C’mon, Harry. It has to be Everson Griffen and those career-high sacks, right?
It has to be shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes, who gives Griffen more time to rush, right?
It has to be nose tackle Linval Joseph, the immovable mass of humanity who sets the run defense and creates the favorable downs and distances that gets coach Mike Zimmer’s mouth a droolin’, right?
It has to be Smith, the most versatile tool in Zimmer’s laboratory, right?
“I could point to a bunch of different guys and you’d say, ‘No, it’s this guy,’ ” Smith said last week.
“And then I’d say, ‘No, it’s that guy.’ People talk about us individually, but we’re good because we’re good collectively. We rely so much on one another to make us look good as a unit.”
Typical Harry. BOR-ing.
At least that’s how Rhodes, the team’s other first-team All-Pro, felt when he joined the conversation after practice last Wednesday.
“The MVP of this defense?” said Rhodes, repeating the softball, er, hard-hitting question lobbed, er, fired at Smith.
“It’s No. 22,” Smith’s jersey number.
The same jersey worn by one of only two players in the league to top 70 tackles, five interceptions and a sack this season.
“No,” Smith said, shaking his head. “It’s Zimmer.”
“No,” Rhodes said. “It’s 22. Easy.”
“What about Linval?” Smith asked.
“Linval is great,” Rhodes said. “Linval is awesome. He’s a great interior lineman.”
“What about the backers?” Smith said of Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
“Yeah, the backers are good,” Rhodes said. “But it’s No. 22.”
“What about ’Dejo?” said Smith, referring to his buddy and fellow safety Andrew Sendejo.
“Yeah, ’Dejo is good,” Rhodes said.
“Or Trae [Waynes]?” Smith asked.
“Trae’s good,” Rhodes said. “But none of us compares to No. 22. He’s just trying to be humble right now. Quote me. He’s the best defensive player of the whole league.”
Knowing this was an interview and would be written at some point, Smith looked as if he wanted to disappear.
“Look at him,” Rhodes said. “I tell him this all the time. I tell him he has the opportunity to take over as the face of this league.”
Four days after that discussion, the Vikings were stuffing Drew Brees at every turn while taking a 17-0 first-half lead en route to the 29-24 divisional playoff win for the ages.
Smith had a 10-yard sack on third-and-10. But Griffen also had a sack and a red-zone pass deflection that Barr intercepted. And Sendejo made a leaping interception that the Vikings turned into a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
For the game, Kendricks had a game-high 10 tackles. Joseph had a tackle for loss. Backups Anthony Harris and Brian Robison combined on the tackle for loss that forced the Saints to kick their last go-ahead field goal with 29 seconds left.
So, Smith is right. It doesn’t make much sense to try and pick a MVP for this defense.
“We aren’t like that,” Smith said.
But that didn’t stop Rhodes’ public relations push for his buddy, No. 22.
“He’s too quiet,” Rhodes said. “He makes first-team All-Pro and doesn’t get voted into the Pro Bowl? Who has that happen?”
“Same thing happened to the kid in Tennessee [safety Kevin Byard],” Smith said quietly.
“Harry just wants to play ball and be quiet,” Rhodes said.
“That’s his whole thing. Play ball and keep it simple. He’s just trying to be Harry. Humble Harry, I call him.”
“Nah,” Smith said. “I’m not being humble. It’s everybody.”
OK, I’m calling it. There is no Most Valuable Player. But there are a lot of Valuable Players.