EAGAN, Minn. – Among Vikings teammates who reveled in Sunday's West Coast win were center Mason Cole and safety Cam Bynum, both of whom made their second straight starts for Minnesota.
Bynum, a 2021 draft pick, and Cole, a free agency addition this past spring, spoke to Twin Cities media members Monday about their past two weeks.
The two were called on to start in Week 9 at Baltimore and Sunday at Los Angeles due to Harrison Smith and Garrett Bradbury both landing on the COVID-19/Reserve list. After suffering a heartbreaking loss in overtime to the Ravens, a game in which Bynum and the defense played 89 snaps, defeating the Chargers felt that much sweeter.
In fact, Sunday's Week 10 matchup was Minnesota's first of 2021 in which it ended the game in "Victory" formation.
The Vikings haven't had much luxury for a late-game breather this season, so Cole didn't take the opportunity to granted.
"Man, it's the best play in football. And when you get to do it three times to end the game, it's great," Cole said. "Spirits were high. Those long drives in the second half, I think, were big for us. And to finish the game out with the ball in our hands, it's fun.
"It's fun to win football games. Losing stinks. So to get back in the win column is really good," he added.
Cole has made the most of his chance to step in and start, allowing zero sacks of Kirk Cousins over 137 snaps played. He also didn't commit a penalty in either game, despite the offensive line drawing "too many" flags at SoFi Stadium.
"I feel like that's why I was brought here, to help this team win in any way possible," Cole said. "Tough game in Baltimore. Had chances to win the game there, but a big road win in L.A. that I think we really needed.
"We had some long drives in the second half that were great and big for us as an offense, so overall it's been good," added Cole, who noted that Bradbury was back at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Monday.
Cole said Bradbury and practice squad guard Dakota Dozier were back at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Monday. Both had been fully vaccinated but tested positive for COVID-19.
"Garrett's been a big help for me the last two weeks. He's been dialed in, just helping me in any way possible from home," Cole said. "Our room has been good. We've got a really tight O-line room. I think we handled the chaos the last couple weeks of just not knowing what was going to happen with COVID and if anybody was going to test positive and what not, but it'll definitely be good to have Dakota and Garrett back."
In similar fashion, Bynum has been able to receive some guidance from Smith from afar. The All-Pro safety was added to the COVID-19/Reserve list shortly before kickoff in Baltimore, leaving Bynum without much warning that he'd be making his first career start.
The rookie capitalized on the opportunity, though, grabbing his first career interception off 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
Knowing he'd be starting against the Chargers, as well, Bynum reached out to Smith early last week.
"Just asked him what his film preparation looks like and he gave me a real brief – because he didn't want me to go out of my routine, I'm sure – but he just gave me really good advice like, 'Be careful watching too much before you get the game plan. Get the game plan, then watch the tape off that and see how that offense is obviously going to attack you,' " Bynum recounted.
"But even more so, just the weeks before seeing how he prepared, seeing how [Xavier Woods] prepares and [Head Coach Mike Zimmer], how he prepares us so well, I was able to kind of be prepared to start this week anyway," Bynum added. "So I'm glad they've been able to help me along this whole process."
Bynum has made an impact in each of his two starts. He recorded his first career sack Sunday, taking down Chargers QB Justin Herbert,
"I was blitzing, [but it] probably looked like to [Herbert] that I was just coming down, being the flat defender. And I came down pretty late to show the blitz, and as soon as he snapped the ball, I was supposed to go B gap but saw the A gap open, so I was able to go right in the middle, which kind of worked out perfectly," Bynum explained. "So it was something that we've been trying to set up all game, showing that Cover 3 look and me blitzing and that made it perfect, and I was able to make my first sack."
Being that Sunday's game took place in Bynum's home state of California, about 40 of his family and friends occupied seats among the 70,240 at the stadium that opened in 2020.
Bynum called it "super fun" to be back in Southern California, where he especially enjoyed warm weather after Twin Cities temps have dipped.
"A lot of my cousins came, a lot of friends from high school, my high school coaches, trainers, some teachers," Bynum said. "Pretty much somebody from anywhere that I've grown up, they came out to watch the game. So that was huge for me, to be able to actually be on the field, and for them to be able to watch me.
"And it was a lot of their first NFL game that they've been to, and to see somebody they grew up with playing," he continued. "So that was huge, and it was just exciting to be able to see everybody after the game and take pictures. Because this is a big moment in my life, obviously, just making it this far. Obviously, I've got to keep it rolling."