The last time the Vikings had a first-round bye, defensive end Brian Robison was a third-year player working on a rotational basis behind Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. The Vikings had won the NFC North in two of Robison’s first three seasons, and as they cruised past the Dallas Cowboys 34-3 in the 2010 NFC divisional playoffs, a player of Robison’s age could have been forgiven for thinking it always would be this easy.
The young players on the 2017 Vikings roster, though, likely won’t slip into that line of thinking. They have a 34-year-old Robison — who has waited eight years to play another NFC divisional playoff game at home — to make sure of it.
“Me and T-New [cornerback Terence Newman] have been talking about it,” Robison said. “It’s something that the guys have to understand that you have an opportunity here to do some great things and you have to take advantage of that opportunity. If you don’t, you’ll probably regret it for the rest of your life, because there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be in this position next year.
“I was in this position in 2009, and it’s taken this long to get back. You have to live in the moment, and when you have an opportunity like this, you’ve got to grab it and just go with it.”
Robison and Newman are two of the team’s three defensive captains, and two of the three oldest players on the Vikings roster. In the euphoria of the Vikings’ 13-3 season, which helped them secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the team’s elder statesmen will be sobering voices, reminding their teammates this is an opportunity that might not come again.
“The problem is, a lot of young guys come in and they expect it’s going to happen every single year. Really, you never know,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “The last time I won the Super Bowl was [after the 1995 season], so it’s been awhile.”
The Vikings, who will begin the playoffs at home Jan. 14, have faced all three of their possible division round opponents, beating the Rams and Saints at home before losing a road game to the Panthers on Dec. 10. They will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before players depart for a long weekend break, while coaches will begin work on the three teams the Vikings could face in the second round.
“These next two days I think it’s important to get back to fundamentals. Making sure that some of our run fits and our blitzes are better, trying to make sure some of the difficulties in the coverage things we’ve had,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to emphasis some other situations; try and play some game like situations in these practices and try and keep us on edge as much as possible.”
Zimmer will have players on the roster who can help him in that endeavor. Nose tackle Linval Joseph won a Super Bowl with the Giants after the 2011 season, while tackle Mike Remmers started in Super Bowl 50 with the Panthers. Wide receiver Michael Floyd played on the 2015 Cardinals team that reached the NFC Championship Game before joining the Patriots for their championship run last year.
“The game is a little bit faster,” Robison said. “Mistakes are magnified, so some of the mistakes you can get away with during the season and you can pull wins out with and things like that, they’re magnified when you get in the playoffs. Sometimes you’re not going to be able to overcome those mistakes. And then, like I said, the game just moves much, much faster. Everybody is fighting for their lives.”
The Vikings won’t have to begin their own fight until a week from Sunday, but the mentality they take into the bye week could help determine how that fight will turn out. It’s why the Vikings’ veterans, who know how precious a trip to the postseason is, aren’t taking it easy on the younger players.
“Now we’re in the tournament and we have a No. 2 seed,” running back Latavius Murray said. “All that is great, so for us now to start looking ahead — we weren’t doing that before, so we’re not going to start doing that now.
‘‘We’ll be focused on whichever opponent we get to play next week, because that’s just how we have to attack it and continue to do what we do.”