A few seconds into Mike Zimmer's news conference on Monday, the Vikings coach emphasized the importance of having safety Harrison Smith, nose tackle Linval Joseph and linebacker Anthony Barr back on the field together Sunday night in a 49-17 victory over the New York Giants.
"It was nice having those three guys back in the lineup. All three of them are active and good football players," Zimmer said.
Smith put the Vikings up 16-3 when he intercepted Eli Manning and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Smith also had five tackles and one pass defended. Joseph had two tackles and Barr one tackle in limited playing time.
"Harrison is … instinctive, quick-thinking, active, so getting him back is big. But when Barr gets in there, he's a guy that they have to account for as well. Linval started out a little bit rusty, but he started playing a lot better as the game went on," Zimmer said.
Zimmer has more flexibility with his defensive play-calling when this trio is healthy. He said his thinking often involves using specific players to fulfill a role.
Joseph (toe) and Barr (groin/hand) had missed three consecutive games. Smith had missed most of the past four games because of a hamstring/knee injury.
The Vikings-Packers showdown for the NFC North title was moved from noon to 7:30 p.m. on NBC's "Sunday Night Football," and Vikings defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd is looking forward to the spotlight for a second straight week.
"Sunday night lights, baby. It doesn't get much better than that. We couldn't ask for more," Floyd said. "Second Sunday night game of the year, just happened to be in a row, and it's a rivalry game. We're going to enjoy it. We're going to shine when the lights come on."
It's the second time this season the Vikings-Packers kickoff time was moved. Their Week 11 meeting was pushed back from noon to 3:25 p.m., and the Packers won at TCF Bank Stadium 30-13.
Pieces in place
Joseph returned to the lineup Sunday night and relieved Floyd from his temporary role of handling the nose tackle position.
Floyd had been eager for Joseph to return and even joked of giving him a healthy toe to speed up the recovery process. Now, with both back, Floyd expects the rest of the defense to fall into place.
"It was great having Linval back," Floyd said. "[We're] going to sit down some more and watch some film and be ready for this game. I feel like with me and him on the same page, everything else will fall into place, so we're really going to keep to stopping that run, and that's what we've got to focus on this week."
The Vikings have a chance to take the NFC North crown from the Packers in Zimmer's second season. A desire for a quick turnaround or the need to dethrone Green Bay was never part of the job requirements, though, Zimmer said.
"There was never any 'You need to win these divisions,' or this or that. Not that I can recall," Zimmer said.
The Packers have won the past four division championships and eight of the 13 since the old NFC Central became the NFC North in 2002.