All-pro safety Harrison Smith has talked all season about how the Minnesota Vikings defense has to create its own energy with no fans in the stands as most games this season. He took matters into his on hands against the Bears on Monday night at Soldier Field, intercepting quarterback Nick Foles on the first drive of the game to put the Vikings in the driver’s seat.
“That was nothing special,” Smith said. “I was just doing my job and making a play when the ball was thrown. Whoever was underneath there did a good job contesting it. I almost dropped it, so I had to lock in there for a second.”
That was an accurate assessment from Smith since he was simply in the right place at the right time on that play. But the nine-year veteran made a much more impressive play shortly after halftime, perfectly timing a pass breakup to jar the ball loose from receiver Allen Robinson.
Both plays helped the Vikings get the ball back — and they went on to score on the ensuing possessions on their way to a crucial 19-13 victory. Asked about Smith after the game, coach Mike Zimmer heaped on the praise, even though he has come to expect that kind of performance from him over the past decade.
“He’s a really good player,” Zimmer said. “He has great anticipation. He understands what offenses are trying to do. He’s very coachable in the fact that I can talk to him during the game or during practice about this or that. He’s just a good player. He will do anything we ask him to do.”
This season, in particular, the Vikings have asked Smith to do more than ever before. He is the longest-tenured (and oldest) player on a young defense, and while he has gotten help from fellow safety Anthony Harris and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, he knows things still start and end with him on the backend.
“I would say the intangible is literally the energy that we choose to bring before we show up to whatever stadium it is,” Smith said. “It’s a goofy season for everybody and we are starting to have a little bit of a feeling about how to make our own energy.”
That has led to a massive turnaround over the past month as the Vikings countered their 1-5 start with three consecutive victories over the rest of the NFC North — the Packers, Lions and Bears — with their defense coming up big in the clutch.
“They are getting a little bit of confidence now,” Zimmer said. “I think it’s been the last few games where the other team has had the ball with a chance to win the game and we’ve been able to put the fire out. The more times we do that, the more times we believe that we can do it.”
If the Vikings can continue that complete effort moving forward, they could be a dangerous team down the stretch.
“I’ve got to give the defense a ton of credit,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Just proud of our team the last few weeks and the results we have been able to get.”
As for Smith, he plans to continue bringing the energy week in and week out, well aware that the Vikings have a long way to go this season.
“There’s definitely no time to let up,” Smith said. “We have a lot of momentum going, and we need to build on that.”