For Banged-Up Vikings, Bye Week is Arriving at Perfect Time

Will Ragatz

NFL players and coaches aren't always fond of the bye week. Sometimes it's placed too early in the season. Sometimes it arrives too late. Many people in professional football believe the sport to be a "game of momentum," as Kirk Cousins described it on Sunday, and that applies both within single games and over the course of weeks or even months. If a team is rolling, the bye week can threaten to disrupt that rhythm.

For the 8-3 Vikings, the bye week is arriving at the perfect time. As one of only four teams in the league to have a Week 12 bye – the latest it can possibly be – they're coming off a stretch of 11 games in 71 days. That's over two months of the same weekly routine, capped with emotional highs and lows on Sundays.

Throughout the course of the season's first 11 weeks, Mike Zimmer has tried to give his players ample rest, even if doing so goes against his natural instincts as a football coach. He has eased up on the amount of contact in practices, and has regularly given the team Mondays off (in addition to Tuesdays, which are always off days).

Even so, the Vikings haven't been able to avoid the injury bug. In the NFL, injuries are something of an inevitability. On Sunday against the Broncos, the Vikings were without four starters and lost another one, Harrison Smith, late in the contest. At this point in the season, even players who have appeared in all 11 games are likely dealing with something or another.

"I think this bye week and break comes at a great time," GM Rick Spielman said on Tuesday. "It's been a grind since training camp through these 11 weeks, so it's going to give our guys an opportunity to heal up. We've got a very tough and challenging schedule ahead these next five weeks."

They'll get plenty of time to recover this week. "This one’s a little different just because of the fact that we’ve gone 11 ballgames now," Zimmer said of his upcoming plan for practices. "So I think they need to get a little rest."

The Vikings are hoping to get most – if not all – of their injured contributors back for a critical Monday Night Football game in Seattle on December 2nd. Adam Thielen, who hasn't played a full game since Week 5, was held out for the two most recent games in the hopes of getting his balky hamstring back to full strength. Bisi Johnson has played well in his place, but Thielen gives the offense another gear with his dynamic route-running and ball skills.

Another welcome return would be that of Linval Joseph (knee), whose presence on the interior of the defensive line has been missed. Safeties Smith (hamstring) and Anthony Harris (groin) will be needed against MVP candidate Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' passing attack. Right guard Josh Kline's status is unclear, as he's suffered at least two concussions this season.

"It is a long, grinding season," Spielman said. "We've got a lot of little bumps and bruises and nicks here and there, and I think for them to get their batteries recharged, I know the training room is very busy this week. Hopefully we'll have close to as many guys back as possible when we have to go out to Seattle."

Everyone will be needed for the final stretch of the regular season, which includes three primetime games and two trips to the west coast. Depending on how they finish the year, the Vikings could still win the NFC North and even secure a first-round bye, they could get in as a wild-card team, or they could slide and watch the Rams or Eagles take their spot altogether.

Nothing is guaranteed yet. That's why it was so important for the Vikings to find a way to rally in the second half on Sunday.

"It wouldn’t have been that good going [into the bye week] with a loss," Dalvin Cook said. "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's the type of football that we are going to have to play, the way we played in the second half."

This week, players will get to relax, spend time with their families, and watch film. Next week, focus will begin to ramp up for the Seahawks. They'll take the field on that Monday night with a chance to once again assert themselves against one of the best teams in the NFC in front of the whole country.

Hopefully, they'll do so with a healthy, rejuvenated roster.

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