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Monday Morning Mailbag: Playoffs on Way, Fan Reactions to 13th Win

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The Vikings accomplished several team goals Sunday in Chicago.

Minnesota wanted to bounce back from a bad outing in Green Bay the previous week, earn a win to keep its outside shot at the No. 2 in line (that was nullified when San Francisco won) and keep everyone as healthy and fresh as possible for the playoffs.

The Vikings did all those things, and Justin Jefferson finished the season leading the NFL in receptions (128) and yards (1,809).

On to the questions (as a reminder, we'll update with more Monday).

The Vikings will make their 31st appearance in the playoffs this weekend. It would seem next to impossible to earn a postseason bid 30 times without winning a championship, but that's our reality. We've never quite seen the same ending in the Super Bowl tournament occur twice — it's almost as if, every year the Purple invent a new way to not win the Lombardi Trophy. After going 11-0 in one score games this year, my gut tells me they lose to the Giants by 8 or fewer (similar to Gary Anderson not missing a kick all season). Please convince me I'm wrong. Tell me they will finally run the table, because being the most successful unsuccessful team in pro sports has got to end. And by the way, have you noticed that the older PA (Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen) gets, the more he looks like Hub Meeds?

— Paul K. Oates in Lockport, New York

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings regular-season finale win over the Bears at Soldier Field.

The Vikings have completed 62 regular seasons, and as Paul mentions will be making their 31st postseason appearance. That's a solid showing for a team that has been competitive most seasons but hasn't hoisted a Lombardi Trophy, despite other franchises with far fewer trips to the playoffs ending their season under celebratory confetti.

Along the way, there's been quite a bit of no-one-but-the-Vikings anguish along the way that has added to the resolve of fans.

The 1969 Vikings did win the NFL Championship before falling in Super Bowl IV. Minnesota then made it back for VIII, IX and XI during the Purple People Eaters era. The Vikings have not been back to the Super Bowl since January 1977, despite making six more appearances in NFC Championship Games.

A 13-4 mark was good enough for the No. 1 seed last season, but Minnesota is going to be the No. 3 this time around. The solace for No. 3 seeds is that No. 2 seeds no longer get a bye in the first round.

That means hosting the Giants, a team the Vikings just saw on Dec. 24 and outlasted 27-24.

The Vikings set an NFL record for the most one-score wins in this season. The Giants went 8-4-1 in one-score contests in 2022.

I haven't spent much time comparing PA to Hub Meeds, the original Vikings mascot who came to fruition the season after being let on the field for Super Bowl IV while dressed appropriately.

I've had the fortune to interview each of them for stories and appreciate both being part of the Vikings fabric. Meeds has a special display at the Minnesota Vikings Museum, by the way, if you haven't visited yet.

From one Monday morning QB, give [Alexander] Mattison the rock, at least more. When the Packers are at their best, you get doses of [Aaron] Jones and [AJ] Dillion. Mattison is running hard. We all love [Dalvin] Cook, and he needs the rock, too. A better blend could be helpful. Bottom line, Mattison runs hard!!!

— Kevin Hartzell (St. Paul hometown)

The run game has continued to evolve, but it was encouraging to see Minnesota balance between gains on the ground and through the air as they spread the ball around. Seven Vikings rushed at least once, and 11 caught at least one pass.

The Vikings have tried to reduce some of the workload on Cook throughout the season, and that continued Sunday. Although he left the game briefly, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Cook took a cleat to the leg and will be ready to go next week.

Mattison was able to score two 1-yard touchdowns, which also was a sign of encouragement, given that Minnesota has had some struggles on short-yardage plays.

There's almost a chicken-and-egg situation of being able to run the ball well and staying on the field and staying on the field providing more opportunities to run the ball.

View game action photos from the Vikings Week 18 game vs. the Bears at Soldier Field.

Still plenty of time left in the game. The "patchwork" offensive line has played well. We've been able to run the ball, and for the most part our QBs have had plenty of time. They are often overlooked, but they've earned some recognition today.

— Troy Boblitt in Springfield, Illinois

Tony's message came in as the Vikings were comfortably ahead of the Bears on a day when Minnesota started reserves at center (Chris Reed) and right tackle (Olisaemeka Udoh).

In the second half, the Vikings subbed in rookie Vederian Lowe at left tackle and Kyle Hinton at left guard in place of Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland, respectively.

The Vikings were able to run the ball with success and protect the passer against a Bears squad that finished with the worst record in the NFL.

The sledding is about to get tougher, but it's always better to build off positives, like running 38 times, which helped Minnesota keep the football for 36:36, not allowing a sack and only surrendering two quarterback hits.

I think a quick fix for the offensive line is to go to a two-tight end set. This should help the pass protection and run blocking. It will also bring a new twist to the offense. Hopefully Irv Smith can be activated and having him and T.J. [Hockenson] on the field at the same time would be awesome!

Go Vikes!

— Steve Lowenstein in Chino Hills, California

Steve's email was sent Thursday, two days before the Vikings activated Irv Smith, Jr., on Saturday.

It was great to see Irv back in action after undergoing his second extensive rehab of an injury (counting the preseason). He was targeted three times and caught all three passes, totaling 14 yards. Those numbers aren't going to jump of the page, but beyond that, Irv looked comfortable with the scheme and confident in his execution.

The prospect of having Hockenson and Smith on the field at the same time should be pretty exciting because it can add multiple elements to Minnesota's offense and present opponents with something to defend that they haven't seen Minnesota deploy much.

Hockenson was acquired just before the trade deadline in the week that followed Smith's injury against the Cardinals.

Going with two tight ends could dictate personnel changes by the defense and allow Minnesota to help on the edge of its offensive line, a group that is trying to move past losing right tackle Brian O'Neill for the rest of the season in Week 17.

Kudos again to the offensive line for what they were able to do Sunday after a week of preparation.

I've been meaning to write for weeks now to thank our strength/conditioning staff for their part ensuring that our players have had enough stamina to play such a long and tightly contested season and stay relatively healthy. While other teams were able to sit out some of their starters from time to time, we haven't had that luxury (until this week).

Secondly, where has Adam Thielen been?? I saw some comments online suggesting we trade him as apparently "he's lost a step and unable to shake off man-to-man coverage" but that's not how I feel at all. From what I've seen on TV, it appears like he is rarely the first option, and regardless, when the ball is thrown to him, it's almost always poorly thrown. Can you comment on what you see regarding Thielen's play? Is he having a problem getting open or not?

My last question is what is up with Kirk's inaccuracy? Again, is the system so challenging that he can't hit receivers/running backs/TEs in stride this point in the season?? It seems like way too often our "receivers" have had to make acrobatic catches regardless of if they are open or covered. When KO keeps saying what an accurate QB Cousins is, I'm a bit baffled as all I see is our "receivers" having to make difficult catches.

My one comment is it's sure gonna be a contested game in my house as my husband and son are huge Giants fans, but I'm ready for it! They don't have a team victory song, and I have a lot more team decorations than they have, including a personalized Cris Carter autographed jersey. Skol!

— Bernice in New York City

Thanks for sending. The health and performance staff is such a critical part of football success, and the group has applied specific knowledge and advancements to give the Vikings the best chances to be at their best each week and over the course of the season.

Thielen finished with 70 catches for 716 yards and six touchdowns on 107 targets. While the touchdowns aren't as high as 2020 when he caught 14 or a season ago when he racked up 10 in 13 games, those are numbers that would lead multiple other teams. It just so happens Thielen is teammates with arguably the best receiver in the game, and the Vikings added a high-volume catching tight end in the midseason. The connection from Cousins to Thielen looked good on the touchdown in Chicago.

Kirk's march through his first season in yet another system has been fairly impressive. He finished Sunday's game 17-of-20 passing with 225 yards and a touchdown for a season-high passer rating of 130.2. The Jets game comes to mind as one where there were some throws he normally makes but was unable to do so.

It was interesting after Sunday's game when Kirk mentioned that he felt it wasn't until after the second Lions game (the week after the Jets) when he really felt an increased comfort in the system. He was 31-of-41 that day with 425 yards and two scores.

Lastly, have fun repping the Vikings in your house. The last time the teams met was a great game.

It seems as though the Jets are going to part ways with QB Zach Wilson. I think he would be a great asset under the tutelage of Coach [O'Connell] and the Vikings system. Learning and developing under Kirk and the offensive staff, I believe, could take him to his next level of play. At some point he could be a viable successor at the QB position. Any thoughts on this?

— Rich Pallotta

As an employee of a team, I can't weigh-in too much on players who are under contract with other teams because of league rules.

It was nice to see Nick Mullens enter a game under much different circumstances than in Week 17 at Green Bay. Mullens completed 11 of 13 passes for 116 yards. He was intercepted once and finished with a passer rating of 71.8, but he seemed to have a good flow with what was being asked of him and with relaying to teammates.

Mullens joined the Vikings via trade in August and has been all about football, learning the system and supporting Cousins in multiple ways. He is schedule to become a free agent as well, so the Vikings will need to decide if they work out a deal to bring him back behind Cousins, who is currently under contract through 2023.

Glad O'Connell weighed in on [Damar] Hamlin's issue. Tell him thanks from me. Been a Vikings fan since they were born in 1961. This has been a great year for the organization, regardless of the end result.

Good thing I have a strong heart.

— Bob Geib

O'Connell has shown an understanding of Xs and Os, no doubt, but that knowledge is enhanced so much by his strengths as a communicator.

He's been quite intentional in building relationships with players and staff, including those who preceded his arrival, and I believe those investments help at a time when trying to lead a team through a difficult situation like the great concern for Hamlin, who has progressed so well.

So we lost [at Green Bay]. The way I look at it, after 50 years of watching, this year we have a 13-4 record with four losses that we won't soon forget, but we also have 13 wins with a couple of not-soon-to-be-forgotten, come-from-out-of-nowhere wins. I've never seen a more exciting season than this one, and it isn't over yet. We're in the playoffs and could go all the way. Whatever happens, happens. Right now, I say thank you team for the 2022 season, and if you win, you win; if you lose, you lose. You're still my team!

— Tony Vernier

Hello Vikings fans,

With all the scared fans wondering which team the Vikings will bring to the playoffs, let us remember, it is just a game and entertainment. Yes, we all wonder when it will be our turn, and yes, we have heard all the Vikings jokes. Let us remember, those young men are very lucky to be in the NFL. Many had to have a break somewhere along the way. Yes, we might think they are overpaid for what they do, but we also remember they are the best of the best. So let the games begin, and let's rock this playoff season. We do believe that they are not playing their best football. Pressure that QB, hold that football like it is your child, hustle down on kickoffs and punts, make good kicks, scramble when nobody is open to extend the play, do YOUR job. Believe, get ready mentally, study, see it in your mind, and let's go play top-level football, and great things will happen. SKOL.

— Todd from South Dakota

View pregame photos of the Vikings at Soldier Field ahead of the Week 18 matchup vs. the Bears.

Combining the thoughts from Tony and Todd. The team appreciates the support through thick and then. I've tried to remind folks over the course of the season that stacking wins, even if they weren't the prettiest would be important by season's end.

Now, the mindset shifts to win or end. We'll see how the Vikings transition to that, but going 13-4 is to be commended, even if it guarantees nothing in the playoffs.

Never did I think we would be 13-4 when the season started. I'll take it!!! Hopefully the injury bug doesn't kill us for next week. Offense looked better but left points on the field. I'd like to say the defense looked better, but who did we play? Strong defense will be needed next week.

O'Connell sounded confident that everyone who played was able to make it through and will be available next week. He also sounded optimistic about returning Za'Darius Smith and Harrison Smith to the lineup after both did not play Sunday.

The offense had some nice execution, but Kirk lamented not doing a little bit better inside the 10-yard line. Scoring touchdowns there will be of utmost importance in the postseason.

The defense played the team that was in front of them, albeit with backup quarterbacks from start to finish. Minnesota limited Chicago to 13 completions and 147 yards on 27 passes.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Giants.

The following questions and comments were added after initial publication of this Mailbag.

OK, we are back to the Mailbag. Monday's schedule was a bit different with a full-fledged open locker room, in addition to making headway on the Playbook game program, so we're closing out the updates on Tuesday.

I read the bio on Nick Mullens and was pleasantly impressed by his experience and skills!!! My question is will O'Connell play him more and will they keep him once he's a free agent? I think the Vikings have a hidden gem there!!!

— Dan Gallagher

Vikings coaches have been complimentary of Mullens' approach and contributions to the team, even if his playing time has been sparse. He played eight snaps at Green Bay and 33 at Chicago under very different circumstances.

I can go back to Minnesota's preseason game at Las Vegas to say I was impressed by what Mullens did in a Raiders uniform against the Vikings back in August.

I'd imagine, that unless the Vikings are able to create some distance against an opponent, which hasn't been the norm for this team, that it will be Cousins under center during the playoffs. Coaches will be able to evaluate Mullens with some more in-game reps on tape thanks to the past two weeks as Minnesota evaluates the entirety of the roster after the season ends. It seems like he's been a good fit to the quarterbacks room.

The Vikings could approach him before free agency opens, but he'll also be eligible to field offers from other teams. If the latter happens, the Vikings and Mullens could always work out a deal after the start of free agency.

Can the Vikings get two home playoff games?

— Brittany Clark in Albert Lea, Minnesota

The answer is yes, but only with some help along the way.

Because the NFL resets the deck after each round to pit the highest remaining seed against the lowest remaining seed (instead of a straight bracket), the No. 3 seed Vikings (if they defeat the Giants in the Wild Card) would need the No. 7 Seahawks to upset the No. 2 49ers on Saturday in order to host a Divisional Round game.

Seattle winning would send the Seahawks to Philadelphia to face the top-seeded Eagles. The Vikings would then host the winner of the Dallas-Tampa Bay game.

The Vikings could also host the NFC Championship Game if Philadelphia and San Francisco are both eliminated, so there could even be a way to get to three home games.

Or there could be a chance to win in the Wild Card Round, visit San Francisco and then return home to host Dallas or Tampa Bay if one of those teams were to topple Philadelphia in the Divisional Round.

What a great year. 13-4. We've been season ticket holders for years. We saw just one loss at home. The Vikings are ready for a great game on Sunday.

— LaMar and David Lundell

Excluding the loss to the Cowboys — Dallas has been the best visiting team at U.S. Bank Stadium (4-0 since 2016) — the Vikings restored the homefield advantage they've generally enjoyed at the venue. Winning all but one of a team's home games in a season means that finding four road wins will result in double-digit victories every season and trips to the postseason.

All six teams who only lost one home game in 2022 (San Francisco, Dallas, Minnesota, Buffalo, Kansas City and Cincinnati) made the postseason, and five won their divisions.

Minnesota is 39-18 in 57 regular-season home games since the venue opened, which is tied for the fourth-best win percentage (.684) in the NFL and trails only Kansas City, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

Removing the 2020 season in which fans were not allowed to attend U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings have the second-best win percentage in home games (.735 with a 36-13 record) behind only Kansas City's .776 (38-11).

The last time the Vikings and Giants met — way, way back in 2022 (ha!) — fans filled the stands and participated in the Winter Whiteout to provide highly memorable visuals. I expect another tremendous crowd this Sunday.

Let's go Vikings, put God first. God bless.

— James Saunders in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

There are a number of players who have connected through their religious beliefs as one way to strengthen the bond between each other.

The team's process has been to build connectivity and belief among players that each will do his tasks to the fullest on each snap. We've seen them help each other through some tough situations between the lines and concerted efforts to uplift members of the community who are struggling through tough times, whether there's an expressed tie-in to religious faith or not.

Have we seen all of the Vikings offensive plays? Have Wes Phillips and O'Connell expended every option including the kitchen sink? How wide open have the two opened the playbook?

— Raymond Ward

This one is particularly interesting to me, given that the Vikings are facing the Giants three weeks after hosting them. Minnesota might get to something it didn't use the last time against New York or might make some tweaks on what was already presented.

When the teams met, everyone knew there was a strong chance that a rematch in the playoffs could be looming.

Phillips and O'Connell will now have the added wrinkle of Irv Smith, but they'll also keep in mind that the team's offensive line will be without Brian O'Neill for sure and may or may not have Garrett Bradbury back. Absences up front can impact the menu of plays, and so can what the opponent likes to do or is good at.

I'd imagine the Vikings staff will have a few postseason surprises because they've known for quite some time that they'd have the opportunity to host at least one playoff game.

But it could go both ways. Maybe the Giants did not use as many blitzes against the Vikings as they did for much of the season? New York led the NFL with a blitz rate of 44.7 percent (272 of 1,078 defensive snaps).

View Vikings players in Big Head Mode as the team defeated the Bears 29-13 in Week 18's regular-season finale at Soldier Field.

Good day from Germany,

With the last regular-season game over, I thought it would be a good time to think about how the season went. I know, I personally won't be able to have an objective view on that in case we lose a Playoff game (esp. if we get crushed), so I figured I would give my opinion, and ask [about] the mood in the organization now.

I am fully aware we have quite a lot of problems: Our O-line doesn't give consistent protection, our offense as a whole plays sporadic, our defense doesn't get enough stops and our [coaches] seem to have had trouble adjusting in game (if we look at our third quarters this year).

However I, personally, find it difficult to not be completely ecstatic if I look back on the regular season. We clinched the playoffs mid-December with a completely new offense and playbook. Our first-year, first-time head coach managed 13 (!!) wins and installed a winning and positive culture. Our new and first-time GM built a roster in the little time he had before and in the season that can obviously compete with about anyone in the league. And overall, our team never quit a single game. No matter how dark it looked at times.

So yeah, if I compare how I felt after last year compared to this year, it is like night and day. Our coach isn't perfect, but young and innovative; our culture seems good, and we have the best (offensive) player in the league on a rookie deal. I don't know how far I "trust" us to go in the playoffs, but I fully believe we have the ability to beat any team and the long-time future looks bright.

So as I thought about the season as written above, I wondered how the mood in and around the organization is. Am I overly optimistic, and do most people see our season as a "fluke" or do most people believe in what was built the last year?

Happy New Year, and hopefully to four more Vikings [postgame] Mailbags.

— Alexander Markhart

It truly is special for me to see how far and wide the committed support of Vikings fans spans. Whether it's four more Mailbags that follow games or fewer, we'll continue to keep the Mailbag going in the offseason.

I don't think I have an analogy to convey just how different it is to discuss an upcoming playoff game than the reasons why a team missed the postseason, especially against the backdrop of last season when Minnesota moved on from Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman.

There's a human element in covering the departure of people you've worked to build relationships with that gets lost through electronic media. There are emotions of knowing there will be an uncertainty ahead, and there was a bit of hope that the process would lead the decision-makers to finding the right hires for such mission-critical positions.

The early returns on those investments with O'Connell setting a franchise record for wins in a coach's first season with Minnesota, combined with the high contributions that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his staff got from their strategic approach to free agency (ranging from early additions like Za'Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips and Jordan Hicks to additions that generated far less buzz like the claiming of Duke Shelley and Khyiris Tonga). The draft class has had some misfortune with its two top picks (Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth, Jr.) landing on Injured Reserve. Cornerback Akayleb Evans was a nice find who also is on IR because of a cluster of concussions.

Ed Ingram has learned on the fly, starting more games than any rookie guard in Vikings history. He also played every snap of offense in 2022. Brian Asamoah II has sprinkled in with the defense and showed speed on special teams, and Esezi Otomewo has impressed on several plays late in the season.

Ty Chandler and Jalen Nailor, a fifth-round pick and sixth-rounder, also played well Sunday in Chicago.

That's a bit of a long-winded response to say what we've seen so far is the personnel department implementing strategic additions and the coaching staff having specific plans to maximize those players and develop younger ones.

I think Alexander does a good job of mentioning some things that may be keeping the Vikings from going from good to great in the eyes of many, but for all the struggles in third quarters, this year's squad has been elite in fourth quarters. Purple power instead of shrinking violets in 11 one-score games.

I don't view this year's outcomes as a "fluke" or as overnight success, for that matter. I think Zimmer and Spielman positioned the organization better than when either arrived, and O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah and their staffs and approaches have further lifted a team that's a blend of late-career veterans and young players.

I can't speak for everyone in the organization, but I'm appreciative of getting to cover a fun team that has done great things on and off the field. I realize the significance of a team winning 13 games for the third time in 62 seasons. There's also an understanding that anything can happen in the playoffs.

Well, here's to the Vikings to make the BIG GAME! If that happens, my son, little brother, and myself will be at the game! SKOL.

— Rick in Stillwater, Oklahoma

I always love to hear about football bringing people together, strengthening family connections and bridging people from different backgrounds.

While there's obvious excitement about being three wins away from appearing in Super Bowl LVII, the Vikings have to take things one game at a time.

Note: This next email came in during the Sunday Night Football game between the Lions and Packers that Detroit won despite already being eliminated from the playoffs earlier in the day because Seattle had won. I'm including the first message as well as an update that came in after that game because I think it provides insight into what several fans may have been thinking.

Before the game:

Greetings from Trinidad & Tobago,

I've been fortunate to see the Vikings several times with my first game being at the Metrodome to witness the Vikings stop the Packers back in 2005.

The Vikings loss last week against the Packers may have been the best thing to happen to this team. We can now defeat the Giants at home, the Packers can take care of the 49ers. This would allow us to play and beat either the Cowboys or the Buccaneers. The Packers will handle the Eagles and then the Vikings can defeat the Packers at home in the NFC Championship Game.

Justin Jefferson has matured and improved this year. I expect Dalvin Cook, Thielen, K.J., Hock and Captain Kirk to play exceptionally well to ensure success.

The defense can step things up with Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter meeting regularly at the quarterback during the upcoming postseason encounters. Once we pressure the QBs, we will disrupt their game leading to INTs by Patrick [Peterson], [Duke] Shelley and the rest of the team. Harrison "The Hitman" Smith and Eric [Kendricks] have been great all season and will continue to perform at a high level.

The ownership and the GM have built a strong team, and O'Connell can deliver the knock-out punch in the Super Bowl. It's gonna be exciting!

Sköl

After the game:

Well, it looks like we can't depend on the Packers for anything. Time for the Vikings to show the world what we're made of! Better than our best; we cannot do less than our best. We got this!

— Deneil (pronounced Danielle) Baksh

Awesome you have been able to venture up and see us in person. If a team is going to have a loss like Minnesota had in Week 17 at Green Bay, it's best to get it out of the way and try to recenter before all games are win-or-go home.

The 49ers (13-4) won their final 10 games to claim the NFC West and the No. 2 seed. That stretch included a 21-13 win at Seattle to go along with a 27-7 victory back in Week 2. The Seahawks (9-8) won their final two games of the season against the Jets and Rams to rebound after losing five of six from Nov. 13 through Dec. 24.

Thus, most would expect San Francisco to prevail against Seattle, but the Seahawks have defied expectations before. If San Francisco happens and Minnesota advances, that means the Vikings will be heading west for the Divisional Round to the same venue where the 2019 team's train stopped in January 2020.

O'Connell was a key part in the Rams march to Super Bowl LVI just last season. That run included closing the season by winning five of six, cruising against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round and winning each of their final three games by three.

It was nice the Vikings took care of so much of their business early in the season so they didn't need help from other teams to make the dance.

When I looked at the schedule in the spring, I calculated with all the new pieces, the team could go anywhere between 5-12 and 12-5. Loved being wrong! I also figured the talent was strong enough to beat any team on the schedule. I stand by that. Key injuries and the bizarre contributed to four crazy losses.

In order to avoid a playoff loss, the team must continue playing clean (penalties/turnovers), call plays that the current OL can block, and the defense MUST improve DYAC (yards after contact), tackle consistently and play a tighter coverage scheme more often. This team can win it all. It will be a team effort.

Skol!

— Jeff in Sacramento

We haven't spent much time talking about penalties in this space, but one of Minnesota's best advancements this season to win on the margins was a dramatic improvement in that category over 2021.

Minnesota had 111 accepted penalties for 1,043 yards and 230 yards nullified by penalty in 2021; opponents that season were flagged 93 times for 786 yards and had 106 yards nullified by penalty. The assessment differences were 18 penalties for the Vikings and a net of minus-257 yards in mark-offs that season.

This season, Minnesota had 88 accepted penalties for 689 yards and had 124 yards nullified by penalty; opponents were flagged 111 times for 926 yards and had 249 yards nullified by penalty. The assessment differences were 23 fewer penalties for the Vikings than opponents and a net of plus-237 yards this season.

And year over year, that's 23 fewer penalties assessed against the Vikings for a difference of 354 yards. Carrying that cleaner play into the postseason will be important.

Tackling obviously will be important this week with Saquon Barkley on deck and beyond.

[Greg] Joseph got his confidence back. The back-ups got significant playing time. We won the time of possession. My biggest question is how did our offensive linemen do? That is the major question mark entering the playoffs.

— Gerald Goblirsch

I thought Reed really benefited from a full week of preparation as the starting center. There are so many responsibilities on the pivot in any offense, and the Vikings have said they place a lot on that position. Soldier Field was much less filled than Lambeau Field the previous week, so the environment wasn't as challenging as going to San Francisco or Philadelphia will be. Nor was the personnel the Vikings encountered from a Bears team that finished with the worst record this season.

O'Connell said the Vikings will continue to be cautious in working Bradbury back. He also said the Vikings plan to open the 21-day practice window for Blake Brandel.

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