The Vikings didn’t win as many games as they would have liked in 2020, but it was a victory in itself that they played and completed the season.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL season was in doubt before it was able to start on time. And there were many anxious moments from start to finish, with games postponed and schedules adjusted. But all 32 teams ended up playing a full 16-game schedule.
The Vikings didn’t have any games affected during a season in which they went 7-9 and missed the playoffs. Nevertheless, with players being tested every day and having to adhere to stringent protocols, it was a season they never will forget.
“It was a roller coaster,” center Garrett Bradbury said. “We’re sitting there, like, two or three weeks before (training) camp on those (union) calls, and we’re, like, ‘Are we reporting?’ We don’t know what we’re doing. Are we having a season? Is it going to start and then get shut down?
“Getting COVID testing every single day, wearing trackers around the facility, potentially being fined if you don’t have them. There was a lot when you sit back and look at it, and we did make through this season. Win-loss aside.”
The Vikings had nose tackle Michael Pierce opt out of 2020 due to the pandemic, but were not significantly affected once the season started by key players missing games. Wide receiver Adam Thielen missed a Nov. 29 game against Carolina while on the COVID-19 reserve list, and tackle Riley Reiff sat out last Sunday’s finale at Detroit while on the list, but Minnesota won both games.
Bradbury joined quarterback Kirk Cousins and guard Dakota Dozier as offensive players who didn’t miss a snap in 2020. On defense, Anthony Harris was in for every play.
Off the field, it was a full-time effort by all Vikings players, coaches and staff members to follow coronavirus protocols.
“(There were) efforts by the players, staff, everyone involved, from the equipment guys to guys doing the video (at) practices and stuff like that,” Harris said. “That sacrifice that everyone had to make in terms of not just the social distancing and wearing masks, but the things that kind of go unnoticed in terms of isolating yourself, not seeing your family.”
When players went on road trips, they were unable to see family members, some of whom could attend some games. The Vikings played four road games before a smattering of fans: Sept. 20 at Indianapolis (2,500 spectators), Oct. 4 at Houston (12,102), Dec. 13 at Tampa Bay (16,031) and Dec. 25 at New Orleans (3,000).
Tickets were not sold all season for games at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings believe that hurt a team with one of the NFL’s better homefield advantages, especially on defense. Loud crowds were not there to bother opposing offenses.
“When you eliminate U.S. Bank Stadium with third and long, and people can’t hear the snap count, it makes it a lot easier,” defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo said.
Obviously, the Vikings are hoping sellout crowds will be return in 2021 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Hopefully, it’s back to normal,” Thielen said. “We need fans in the stands. We need football back to football with the excitement that that brings and the energy that that brings. Man, I miss it.”
With few or no fans at games, the NFL had a record scoring season. Defensive-minded Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer believes “scoring will come down” in 2021, which would be just fine with him.
For now, Zimmer offered his appreciation for the Vikings being able to get through the season.
“No one would have ever thought we’d be trying to play football in the way we ended up doing it this year, but I’m extremely proud of our guys, the way they went about their business and worked like crazy,” he said.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for completing 28 of 40 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 37-35 win over the Lions last Sunday in the final game of his third Vikings season. It was Cousins’ second such honor of the season.
Cousins has become Minnesota’s career leader with a passer rating of 103.6. According to the Vikings’ record book, 1,500 attempts are needed to qualify, and Cousins now has 1,566. Cousins is well ahead of former Vikings QBs Daunte Culpepper (91.5), Brad Johnson (82.5) and Fran Tarkenton (80.1).
Vikings assistant general manager George Paton interviewed Wednesday for Detroit’s general manager job, and also is expected to interview for a similar position with Denver.