EAGAN, Minn. — Anthony Barr said he experienced almost every emotion possible before, during and in the aftermath of his season debut.
Barr played all 68 defensive snaps in Sunday's wild 19-17 win over the Lions. He missed the first four games of the season with a knee injury, making it 18 consecutive regular-season games overall.
"It was a lot of fun. It was everything I hoped it would be," Barr said. "A lot of energy out there, a lot of emotions. It was kind of a crazy game, but happy to come out on the right side of it."
Barr admitted Monday that he felt a sense of pure joy before his first game in 13 months. And he echoed that sentiment with a social media post after the game about how he had "made it through the darkest of days" in his return to the field.
"Man, just so happy. 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," Barr said. "Just to have the opportunity to play again, man, I couldn't be more thankful. Just got to keep pushing."
Then, of course, there was the game itself.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that he came away pleased with how the Vikings linebacker performed.
"Yeah, he did pretty good," Zimmer said. "I know he came over after, like, the third series and kind of said, 'I feel like myself again.' So that was good.
"He's a tough guy and good competitor," Zimmer later added.
Barr had all sorts of ways to describe how his 2021 debut went, but began by saying he was "exhausted multiple times" throughout the contest. And, he added, there was some rust to knock off.
"Definitely some. I felt a little slow at times. But 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. But I felt good.
"Kind of just playing football again. Football has been the same for a long time. Obviously players change and schemes change, but the essence of it is the same," Barr added. "So it was good to get back out there and run around a little bit, and I'll continue to get better as the time goes on."
But when it came to how his body felt — both during the game and the day after — the ninth overall pick of 2014 didn't hold back.
"I mean, right now I feel like [crap]," Barr said. "But I'll be good in a couple days."
He then described an inside look at what a player might feel a few dozen times each game.
"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 added.
That mindset applied to his first few snaps, too, when he mixed it up with some contact and was in on some tackles.
"Just got to let it go … Just let loose," Barr said. "Like I said, if I explode, I explode. If not, just keep going to the next one, you know?
"If you play timid, that's when you can get hurt. The more reckless you can be, the better off you'll be, I guess," Barr added. "That's probably not great advice for most people, but that's what our line of work is."
View game action photos of the Vikings battling the Lions in the Week 5 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
League stats credited Barr with four total tackles against the Lions, three of them solo. A few came in pass coverage, where Barr thought he held his own.
"I don't think I was tested, really. I was pretty good on most of the pass plays," Barr said. "I missed one tackle in space and then a couple of them were miscommunications in coverage where a guy got loose. But I felt like I was OK."
That's a solid assessment from a guy who hadn't played since Week 2 of the 2020 season. A torn pectoral muscle ended that season, while the aforementioned knee issue kept him out for the first month.
But Barr now appears to be back in his regular role in the Vikings defense, and will be tasked with helping the 2-3 Vikings and get to .500 in Week 6 against the Panthers (3-2).
He should only get better as the weeks roll on.
"Yeah, I think so. I think we have a good foundation, if you want to say that," Barr said of the Vikings defense. "We may have struggled a little bit early on, but … we're finding our way.
"I think with each passing game we figure out, 'OK, we tweak this a little bit, tweak that a little bit.' Cover those holes, and we should be pretty salty going forward," Barr added.