The Vikings will be one of the last four teams in the NFL to take their bye in Week 12, enjoying a chance to rest Sunday before a five-game flurry stuffed with three prime-time matchups and two West Coast road trips.
When players departed the team facility to begin their long-awaited break Monday, they could do so with an extra sense of relief they had avoided a defeat that would have soured the whole thing.
“It wouldn’t have been that good going in with a loss, but this definitely put the icing on it,” running back Dalvin Cook said Sunday. “We have got everything in front of us that we want to do. We’ve got a good stretch coming up with some good teams, and that is the type of football that we are going to have to play. The way we played in the second half.”
By rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit and beating the Broncos 27-23 on Sunday, the Vikings put themselves at 8-3 heading into their bye, 1½ games ahead of the Rams for the NFC’s final wild-card spot and a half-game behind the Packers for the division lead. They will get their chance to rest while Green Bay returns from its bye and heads west for a Sunday night matchup at San Francisco. Then, the Vikings will prepare for a Monday night matchup rife with playoff implications at Seattle, and three NFC North home games sandwiched around a Sunday night road game vs. the Chargers on Dec. 15.
The deficit the Vikings dug for themselves against Denver on Sunday, and the comeback they staged in the second half, enabled coach Mike Zimmer to send players into their break with a few reminders of what’s at stake from here.
“It tells you two things, really: If we wait to flip the switch, we’re not going to win many of those games,” Zimmer said. “But if we play like we can play, and we use the competitiveness and the fight and the intelligence and the toughness that we mostly played with in the second half, we can win a lot of games.”
The Vikings’ Week 12 bye is the second latest in team history, behind only the Week 14 bye they had in 1991 (the second year the NFL incorporated a week off for each team). Instead of keeping players for a day or two of practices into the bye week, Zimmer decided to cut back on the workload, as he has done on a few occasions this season.
“This one’s a little different just because of the fact that we’ve gone 11 ballgames now, so I think they need to get a little rest,” he said.
When they return, the Vikings hope to get Adam Thielen back from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for three of four games since Oct. 20 — “We got 14 days from today, so we’ll just have to see how he continues to get better,” Zimmer said — and the time off could help heal their secondary, where Anthony Harris missed Sunday’s game because of a groin injury, and Harrison Smith left late because of a hamstring injury.
The two years the Vikings have gone to the playoffs under Zimmer, they have won coming out of their bye week; they lost pivotal road games at Philadelphia and Chicago coming out of the bye in 2016 and 2018, on their way to sliding out of the playoff picture.
This time around, everything from a wild-card berth to a first-round bye is still in play for the Vikings. They will come back in a week for a five-game sprint to claim as high of a spot in the NFC playoff picture as they can.
“When you finish this game, you go to Seattle in two weeks, they don’t care whether we won going away, whether we got blown out, whether we had an emotional win,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “It’s irrelevant. The score starts 0-0. That crowd is going to get after it. That’s a really good football team. It has no bearing how the previous game went how that game will go.
“You hit the reset button every week. You get back to work, and you’ve got to do it again. You stack them up 16 times. You see where you are at the end. Whether it’s special or not, you talk about that in March, but right now we’re just focusing on one game at a time and then flushing and moving on to the next one.”