EAGAN, Minn. – Less than 24 hours later, a tough road loss and abrupt end to the Vikings 2019 season still hurts.
Defensive end Everson Griffen and his teammates had hoped to be prepping for the NFC Championship Game but instead gathered Sunday for one last meeting and to clean out their lockers.
Though Griffen has been through this before, it doesn't get any easier.
Still stinging, Griffen balanced disappointment with a reflection on accomplishments.
"Let's start off with this year – it was a great year for us. It didn't end like we wanted it to end, but San Fran, they came out with a great game plan, and they won the game," Griffen told Twin Cities media members. "But I'm proud of the guys in this locker room, I'm proud of the team, and we just have to find a way to win in the big situations. Yesterday, we didn't get that done."
Griffen hopes to be back in the Vikings locker room this spring to make those improvements.
The 31-year-old is slated to become a free agent in March. He made it clear that his priority would be to stay in Vikings Purple.
"I want to be a Viking for life," Griffen said. "But it's a business, so we'll figure that out when that time gets here. … When that situation comes up, then we'll handle it the proper way."
Minnesota drafted Griffen with the 100th overall pick in 2010; he has been a full-time starter for the Vikings since 2014, when Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the helm.
Having missed five games during the 2018 season to deal with a personal matter, he has expressed on multiple occasions thankfulness for the support of the Vikings organization.
"I want to be here," Griffen said Sunday. "I love this team, I love this organization – they took care of me when I needed it the most, and I want to be a Viking. But we'll see what happens when the time comes."
Griffen returned to full form this season and put up impressive numbers. He finished his 10th NFL regular season with 8.0 sacks, 46 tackles (coaches' tally), 11 tackles for loss, 24 quarterback hits, three passes defensed and an interception. Against the Saints in the Wild Card playoff game, he added 1.5 sacks of Drew Brees, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries.
Asked to reflect on his personal performance this season, Griffen said, "I think it was pretty good."
"Coming off the year I had a year ago, it feels good to be at this point," he said. "The only thing I can do now is just, I watched the tape already and seen where I can better at, but at the end of the day, you have to be somewhat proud of where we made it.
"We just didn't want it to finish that way," he added. "We wanted it to go farther."
Similar sentiments were expressed after Saturday's loss by Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, who assured that "the heart was there."
Kendricks spoke with media members again Sunday and acknowledged the bevy of emotions as players packed up their personal items for the offseason.
"It's always weird," he said. "The team always changes each year, so it kind of sucks. We're a real close group of guys."
Kendricks hopes Griffen will be one of the returning players for the 2020 campaign. Asked what kind of impact his veteran teammate has on the Vikings, Kendricks grew slightly emotional.
"Man, Everson means a lot, honestly. I don't even know how to put that into words," said Kendricks, whom the Vikings drafted in 2015. "He's a vet, the young guys look up to him, he works hard on the field. You can't mistake his film. It's cool, man. I've been with him for a while now. It's been awesome playing with him.
"A lot of the time we spend is right here in this locker room," he continued. "You get to see guys' real personalities and see how they bring people together. Talk trash, tell jokes. There's some hard times in here; we get through it together. That's what it's all about."
Looking ahead at Season 11, Griffen believes he still has "maybe three or four" years left in the tank.
He said it "took a lot" to bounce back in 2019 but paid off in dividends.
"It took a lot of discipline, it took a lot of asking for help, it took a lot of courage to be able to get [myself where I] wanted to be. Where I needed to be," he said. "Yeah, it feels good. There's always room for improvement, but at the end of the day, I did pretty well coming off the year that I had [previously].
"You know, I'm happy. I'm happy to be in this locker room smiling, healthy," he added. "Like I said, I want to be here for the remainder of my career."