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Team-First Attitude Drives Vaunted Vikings Defense

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Moments after the latest victory of the young season, a 22-10 road win over Carolina, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer stood in front of his players and hammered home his message.

"This is about the team; it's not about individuals," Zimmer said in his postgame speech. "This isn't about anything but the team."

Through three games, Minnesota is a perfect 3-0 thanks to help from nearly every player on the roster.

Yet even as some players rack up eye-popping statistics, all they care about is  the Vikings walking away with a win.

Case in point: Minnesota's defense racked up 8.0 sacks against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday. Everson Griffen had 3.0 of them while Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Brian Robison Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph each recorded a sack apiece.

Defensive tackle Tom Johnson didn't record a sack but was credited with 10 quarterback hurries and notched his first career interception. Joseph said Johnson's selfless attitude helped the Vikings defeat the reigning NFC champions.

"With this team, you just have to be ready," Joseph said. "You never know what's going to happen.

"Next week, Tom might get three sacks; you never know how it goes," he added. "We rush together. When it's your time, you make a play."

That motto has allowed players of all ages to thrive with the good of the team in mind. Hunter, a 21-year-old defensive end who has a sack in every game this season (along with Joseph), noted his production wouldn't be possible without those around him.

"The player I am right now, it wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for my teammates and coaches stressing their points on me every day at practice," Hunter said. "It's all about me, just going out there and learning."

Vikings veteran linebacker Chad Greenway has watched Minnesota's defensive line rack up 13 sacks in three games, a total that would lead the league on its own. Add in sacks by Barr and Smith and Minnesota's team total of 15 is tops in the NFL.

Greenway said the Vikings depth along the defensive line, which includes players like third-year defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, has helped elevate the Vikings to three straight wins.

"That defensive front, yeah, we've put up great numbers, but in that room it's not really about that," Greenway said. "It's about just trying to get wins. Stats are coming with those guys, which is great and typically comes when you're winning.

"They're playing well together. Everybody is doing a really good job up front," he added. "I don't care if it's backups or guys like Shamar who aren't getting sacks but are playing extremely well in the run game and putting us in position to go rush."

Some of Zimmer's biggest points of emphasis since arriving in 2014 were that the Vikings would be a tough, gritty and disciplined football team.

But he also insisted the Vikings roster be filled with players who value team success over their own personal accolades.

"Zimmer did a good job of bringing guys in with what he coaches and preaches," said Joseph, a Super Bowl winner with the Giants after the 2011 season. "Everybody has bought into that. It's all about the team, it's not about you."

"Every team that has won the Super Bowl or goes to the Super Bowl is all about the team," he added. "That's the reason why they made it that far." 

Perhaps the Vikings are on that path, too.

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