MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings woke up Sunday morning not trusting outside help but knowing they could count on each other.
They went to bed Sunday night having earned the franchise's first postseason berth since 2012 and with the opportunity to win Minnesota's first NFC North crown since 2009, thanks to a 49-17 thumping of the Giants on a numbingly cold, 13-degree night at the University of Minnesota.
"By us coming in here tonight and getting a win, we do not have to rely on other people to get into the playoffs," defensive end Brian Robison said. "We've been in situations before where we've had to rely on people and it's not a fun deal. You want to be able to do what we did tonight: win and in. Now we've got to try to move forward and get a division championship next week."
The tone in the locker room after the Vikings secured their 10th win was pleased but not satisfied. It's one set by Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, his staff and veteran players like Robison, who had one of four sacks of Eli Manning. Rookie Danielle Hunter had 1.0, and veteran Tom Johnson had 2.0.
"I mean we're happy that we made it into the playoffs," Robison said. "Those are things you take for granted, but at the end of the day, you can't be satisfied with where you're at. That's the vibe I get from this team: we're not satisfied. We've got work to do and goals we want to accomplish as well."
Added linebacker Chad Greenway, "Obviously happy we're in, but more so thinking about the opportunity ahead of us and really focused about what we have to do next week."
The Vikings knew they would have at least one January game (and it would be their first visit to Lambeau Field in that month for a regular season game ever) when the schedule was released. Now they have a chance to earn a January home game by winning the division. The winner next week will earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC Playoffs (click here for scenarios).
View images from Sunday night's game as the Vikings host the Giants.
Once the Vikings flipped field position early, the defense became more dominant, and the offense took advantage of short field position, eventually building a 29-point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Kyle Rudolph caught the first touchdown of the night, reeling in a 28-yard pass from Teddy Bridgewater for a 10-0 lead with 11:02 left in the second quarter. Rudolph said the Vikings avoided watching the scoreboard throughout the day while they spent more time than normal in the team hotel. He thinks that will help next week against the Packers (10-5) in a game that was flexed to a 7:30 p.m. (CT) kickoff and appearance on Sunday Night Football.
"It was big for us to go out and play like we did today on national television at night because we hadn't played that well on these big stages," Rudolph said. "It was good for us to kind of go through the routine of being at the hotel all day and getting used to what it's like to play on a Sunday night game like this. I think playing this one will benefit us next week."
Safety Harrison Smith built on the lead with a 35-yard return for a touchdown, the franchise-record fourth pick six of his career and one of three interceptions of Manning on the night.
Smith's score in his first game since suffering a hamstring injury on Dec. 6 was part of 22 unanswered points by the Vikings.
The Giants (6-9) were without Odell Beckham, Jr., who was serving a one-game suspension, and struggled early and often.
New York was 1-for-11 on third downs, gained 119 yards and scored three points on its first 11 possessions. Three of those drives were ended by interceptions and six were stopped by punts.
"It's huge for us to put the offense in such great position," Greenway said. "That's going to be great for us moving forward. The turnovers came tonight. We haven't had a bunch of them this year, so it's something we needed to improve, and you hope those things start coming in bunches."
Greenway and Robison have been around the NFL long enough to know how special it is to make the playoffs. They told younger players to appreciate it but not lose sight of more goals.
"I told Danielle as soon as we came in here to never take it for granted because you never know when you're going to have this opportunity again," Robison said. "In 2009, we went to the NFC Championship, and I'm a young player thinking we're going to win for years to come, and you never expect to have one winning season since up until this season. We're not satisfied with just getting into the playoffs. We've got an opportunity next week to hopefully get another home game in front of our fans. When you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."