EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Harrison Smith really wanted to save the basketball from going out of bounds.
He dove despite bleachers made of concrete and tossed the ball back to a teammate.
View the best photos of S Harrison Smith, after he signed his contract extension with the Vikings on Monday.
The ball was safe but at the consequence of his lip (13 stitches) and knee (about 30 stitches).
"It was a really nice stadium, so the bleachers were concrete," Smith recalled. "The seat won, and I lost. I did save the ball but right when I got back in, the teammate I saved it to passed it back to me. I called a timeout."
Even back then — before the sport that is his passion became his profession — he went all out but kept his senses, a combination that's served him well on the gridiron.
The 2012 first-round pick has played 50 career games but missed his first of the season last week because of a knee injury he suffered due to friendly fire against Green Bay.
"You've got to give it a chance to kind of calm down and get back to normal," Smith said. "It's definitely going in the right direction. I should have a good idea by Friday."
Smith didn't enjoy spectating but had to admit to himself he wouldn't be the Vikings best option in Atlanta. He liked what he saw from teammates as "guys stepped up."
That includes second-year pro Antone Exum, Jr., who made the first start of his career, and came up big on Minnesota's fourth defensive snap of the game, deterring Tevin Coleman after a 46-yard gain long enough for Anthony Barr to hustle in pursuit and force a fumble.
"My whole mindset was to not let him score, so if I could put my body in between him and the end zone, then I knew I could slow him down or stop him from scoring," Exum said. "I maybe got a little too high on my initial angle but I didn't want to attack them right away because I was too far away. I just tried to stay high, and fortunately for me when I stayed high, he cut it back, but it slowed him down and it was just a great effort from Barr coming from behind and punching the ball out. At that point, it's find the ball by any means.
Exum recovered the fumble and called on lessons he said he's learned from Smith, Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton.
Smith said Exum handled being the last line of defense and making a play in space well.
"That's a hard play. It's just you and him, and he's got the whole field," Smith said. "It's going to be hard to make that play. He did enough to slow him down and then Barr made that great play, mostly from hustle. It ended up working out in our favor."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the chances of Smith and Sendejo playing or not playing this week on Wednesday and responded with a humorous take on his chance to be a jockey.
Dissimilar, but familiar
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson are different types of players in different schemes, but they are familiar with the results each has had.
"The biggest thing that stands out about Russell is that he's a winner," Bridgewater said. "That's what everyone aims for in this position, you want to be a winner. He's been playing some great football; he's smart with the football, not turning it over, he knows how to escape to keep plays alive when things break down."
Bridgewater, 23, has made 23 starts and is 14-9 in those games. Wilson went 17-6 in his first 23 starts.
Wilson said his familiarity with the Vikings QB dates to Bridgewater's time at Louisville where Wilson's brother and sister-in-law live.
"I have a lot of respect for how he plays the game," Wilson said. "He's smart and it seems like he's really dedicated to his team."
Work and reward
Knowing the task at hand and the toll of a long season, Zimmer modified the schedule for Thursday. He has given players a "victory Monday" earlier this season, but had some work in mind for the Vikings this week when the Vikings returned with their fourth straight road win. The delayed reward was an adjustment he made to move up practice in Thursday's schedule.
"I'm just trying to keep our guys fresh," Zimmer said. "We're getting late in the season, and I think it's important we recover and get their legs back. We've got a good tough stretch here that we need to play good in and Sunday will be a tough one."
Exum said he knows the significance of opening the season 8-3 the way the Vikings have done this year, but also knows that Minnesota must continue to make the most of opportunities.
"Being where we're at right now at 8-3, that's not something that you come by every year, so we've got to take advantage of it and try to get in the playoffs and go as far as we can," Exum said. "I know this team has high goals, so hopefully we can live up to them."
Load of Courage: Vikings players selected Phil Loadholt as the team's recipient of the 2015 Ed Block Courage Award (click here for past Vikings selections).
The Ed Block Courage Award is named in honor of Ed Block, the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts and was established in 1984.
Loadholt worked his way back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him the final five games of 2014. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles on his first series of plays in the preseason home opener against Tampa Bay, costing him all of 2015. He's been grinding to get better since.
"[The award] means you have to go through a lot of adversity, but I think it also speaks to the way I'm dealing with the adversity," Loadholt said. "I think everyone realizes the work I'm putting in. It's an honor to be part of it.
"I went through phases [of coping] at first," Loadholt added. "It was definitely very hard wrapping my mind around the fact that I wouldn't be able to play this season, but I'm working with our training staff. They do a great job and are one of the best in the league. I've just been staying positive and taking little steps at a time. I'm out of the boot now, walking around and feeling good."
Zimmer said he appreciates what Loadholt has done in the community, visiting children in the hospital and helping events that raise money for the Vikings Children's Fund.
"He's really a great representative for us, and I think the players have a lot of respect for him," Zimmer said.
Injury reports: For the Vikings, Smith and Anthony Barr (hand/groin) were limited. Linval Joseph (foot) and Sendejo (knee) did not participate. Blanton (ankle) and Trae Waynes (ankle) were full participants.
For the Seahawks: RB Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) already has been ruled out. FB Will Tukuafu (concussion), DE Demarcus Dobbs (concussion), WR Paul Richardson (hamstring), CB Marcus Burley (ankle) and DT Jordan Hill (toe) did not participate. C Patrick Lewis (knee), S Earl Thomas (hip) and CB Jeremy Lane (knee) were listed as full participants.