EAGAN, Minn. – When Kyle Rudolph steps onto the field at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon, it will mark the 100th time he's started for the Vikings in the regular season.
Rudolph reflected on joining the Vikings as a second-round draft pick in 2011 and all that's happened in the seven-plus seasons since.
"You come into this league as a young kid, and I remember early in my career when guys like [former Vikings linebacker] Chad Greenway were making their 100th start," Rudolph told Twin Cities media members, "and you think about how many games that is and how many years of football they've played. So to be at that point now, it's pretty cool.
"I still feel like I have a lot of football left in me," Rudolph added. "Hopefully another hundred, at least, so I'm looking forward to a lot more years to come."
Sunday's contest against the Patriots also will be the tight end's 60th consecutive start, perhaps an even more impressive statistic.
Rudolph's streak, the longest by an active player at the position, nearly came to an end during the 2017 season, when he suffered an ankle injury at Carolina and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer designated him as doubtful for the Week 15 game against Cincinnati.
Despite having not practiced the entire week, however, Rudolph found a way to play.
"I just begged [Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman] to give me a chance," said Rudolph, who logged two catches and a touchdown against the Bengals.
Rudolph partially attributes his ability to string together 60 games to "good luck," but he's also learned how to take care of his body and help prevent certain types of injuries that could be considered more within one's control.
"When you play this game long enough, the injury rate is a hundred percent. You're going to get hurt at some point. And there are ones that you can't control," said Rudolph, who missed 15 games from 2013-14. "[But] as long as you control the ones that you can control, and you're taking care of your body and avoiding the muscle injuries and things like that, the impact ones are going to come at some point if you play long enough, and you've got to battle through them."
Rudolph is grateful to have spent his career thus far with one team.
This season, Rudolph has been perceived to be a little less involved in the passing game – and the end zone – than in previous campaigns, having entered last week's game against the Packers with 36 catches and two touchdowns. Zimmer said that the tight end had expressed a level of frustration prior to the Green Bay matchup in which he caught all seven balls thrown his way, the most catches for Rudolph since Week 2.
When Rudolph was asked about the situation by media members, he acknowledged the feelings and further explained.
"The frustration comes because I'm a competitor, and we weren't winning games," Rudolph said. "I thought I could help our offense make plays in certain situations that would help our team win games, and basically we just dove into, 'When are those situations? And how can I help this offense be more productive?'
"And at times, that's helping your protection and chipping and all the things that I talk to you guys about all the time," Rudolph continued. "But there are certain situations in the game where that's not the case, and I felt like I could help our team out. It kind of clicked there on Sunday night, and I was able to see more production than I'm accustomed to."
Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo said he loves spreading the ball around and "would love to get Rudy more involved than he has been" in future games.
Wide receiver Adam Thielen attested to the significant role that Rudolph plays on the team, whether he's making big catches or important blocks that free up his teammates.
"Rudy's a phenomenal football player, and he's a huge asset to this offense and this team," Thielen said. "I think he's going to be a guy that will be crucial for our success moving forward, and that's the great thing. We have a lot of guys on this offense, a lot of guys on this team that can make plays, and you have that have in this league – otherwise other teams will take away guys and make it really difficult on you."
Thielen referred to Rudolph as "a guy who makes this offense go" in Minnesota.
"Even when he's not making the [flashy] plays, he's still a big reason why we're having success," Thielen said. "Whether he's blocking or chip blocking, or maybe he's the guy that's running routes to clear out people. So he's such a big part of this offense – and when he's that reliable, it only makes us better."
Heading into what likely will be a tough game against New England, opportunities could open up for Rudolph if the Patriots defense focuses heavily on the Vikings receivers.
Rudolph pointed to the win over the Packers and said Minnesota's offense has proven difficult to defend.
"It makes it hard to double guys when you have as many play-makers as we have, and when we're dispersing the ball around to five, six guys, we're unpredictable," Rudolph said.
Whether he makes 20 catches or two catches in his 100th start, you can expect one thing out of the reliable Rudolph – he will be fully prepared.
"You never know when those opportunities are going to come, and it's a long season," Rudolph said. "At some point, seven balls are going to come my way. And if you dwell on the times they didn't come, you may squander those opportunities. That's something you can't do.
"When you're asking for opportunities, you have to take advantage of them when they come," he added.