The recovery process continued for linebacker Anthony Barr during the Vikings' 19-17 victory over the Lions on Sunday. Barr played every snap — all 68 — in his first game in over a year, and he emerged from many plays reminded about the fun and pain of football.
"It's kind of sweet," he said Monday. "It's kind of good to be in pain."
What Barr described as a grueling two months trying to get his injured right knee feeling well again culminated with Sunday's long-awaited return. He was also reminded that his conditioning is a work in progress, and playing is the only way through.
"There were multiple plays when I felt like I was never going to be able to walk again," Barr said. "Your body feels like it explodes and then you get up like, 'OK, I'm good.' The more of those I get, the more conditioning my body gets for just banging and running and all that good stuff."
Barr said he "felt a little slow at times" while being credited with four combined tackles, including an open-field stop on a 4-yard pass. He also chipped in during an early run stop.
But the team captain looked gassed by the time the Lions scored 10 points in the final few minutes of a furious comeback attempt. He was driven back toward the goal line during D'Andre Swift's 7-yard touchdown run to take the late lead.
"I think that's normal," Barr said. "As I continue to get more reps out there, that'll come back and it'll slow down a little bit."
Being back on the field at all elated Barr, who has candidly discussed the mental stress of being an injured player during the era of isolating COVID-19 protocols.
"Just so happy," he said. "I'd never worked so hard in my life to get to this point. I got a lot of help along the way, but I grinded for this. Just to have the opportunity to play again, man, I couldn't be more thankful. Just got to keep pushing."
'He's showing emotion'
In a viral video posted after Greg Joseph's winning field goal, Kirk Cousins grabbed 69-year-old coach Mike Zimmer by the sweatshirt and gave him a shove. After the game, Cousins said they were just celebrating. When asked about the moment Monday, Zimmer said it was another dose of what he's been looking for from his quarterback.
"He's doing exactly what I want him to do," Zimmer said. "He's being a leader, he's being vocal, he's showing emotion. I've been talking to him about it all year. It's no different than when [Sam] Bradford tackled me in practice [in 2017], because I was trying to get him to be the same thing. So, you know, he came over and said, 'You like that?' and kind of gave me a shove, and I shoved him back, and it was all good."
Griffen played well, but too often
Defensive end Everson Griffen's playing time increased as he rekindled his starting role vs. Detroit. But that's still not what coaches are looking for as they try to maintain the 33-year-old's effectiveness through another 12 regular-season games, if not more. Griffen drew strong grades from coaches after twice sacking Jared Goff, although he might not play 49 snaps again.
"He probably played too much last night," Zimmer said. "If we can keep him to 30, 35 [plays], we feel like we can maintain his athleticism, and power, and things like that through the course of the year."
Homecoming for O-linemen
Center Garrett Bradbury and right guard Oli Udoh are returning home to North Carolina on Sunday when the Vikings play the Panthers. Udoh, from Fayetteville, N.C., and Bradbury, from Charlotte, also went to in-state colleges at Elon and N.C. State before getting drafted by the Vikings in 2019. They will have to budget extra time to sort through ticket requests from friends and family, many being Panthers fans who will wear purple on Sunday.
"We're still counting them up," Bradbury said.