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Vikings 'Ultimate Team' During 5-0 Start

There are multiple reasons that not many pegged the Vikings to open the season with five straight wins.

They have, however, posted the best start by a Minnesota team since the 2009 version opened with six victories fueled by a high-octane offense.

This time around, the defense has led the way and worked hand in hand with dynamic special teams and efficient offense with relentlessness and leadership all around.

Brian Robison, a 10-year veteran and first-year season-long captain who was part of the Vikings back-to-back NFC North titles in 2008-09, is a great person to ask why and how the Vikings start has been so strong.

"I think it's the way we face adversity," Robison said. "You look at the offensive side of the ball, and as many guys as they've had go down, they don't gripe, they don't complain, they don't make excuses. They just say, 'OK, next man up.' "

Robison said the team feels the defense could put a game on its shoulders if needed, but all three phases have contributed to the success so far.

"This team when you look at it, it really is a team," Robison said. "We're scoring on special teams, we're making big plays on special teams. The offense is putting points up on the board and managing the clock. The defense is creating turnovers. It really is the ultimate team."

Defenders have taken turns pressuring quarterbacks, they've collaborated to stuff the run, forced 12 takeaways and lead the NFL in points allowed per game (12.6).

"I think we're more concerned with team defensive stats than individual stats," Barr said. "If you look across the board, individual numbers might be down from a year ago at most positions, but defensively we're playing at a high level. You can look at individual numbers but we're more focused on wins and team defense."

Special teams has scored two punt return touchdowns, pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line with punts 13 times and ranks eighth in the NFL in kickoff return average. The offense has totaled nine touchdowns and zero turnovers and has helped the Vikings average 31:36 with time of possession.

Minnesota has endured injuries that caused Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith to land on injured reserve and overcame the sidelining of Stefon Diggs (groin) and Brandon Fusco (concussion) on Sunday.

Captain Munnerlyn and others have been impressed by the way the offense has adjusted and the way Sam Bradford has played in his first four starts with the Vikings.

"We lose [Teddy] Bridgewater, the front office went out and got a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback," Munnerlyn said. "We lose [Adrian] Peterson, and [Jerick] McKinnon and [Matt] Asiata come in and have not lost a beat. Then Diggs goes down and [Adam] Thielen has a big time game. It is just the next man up mentality. In this locker room, we know the show must go on no matter what, and we go out there and try to compete."

Munnerlyn said it started with the message that Head Coach Mike Zimmer relayed just a few hours after Bridgewater suffered a severe knee injury in the final practice of the preseason.

"Coach Zimmer let us know that no one is going to feel sorry for us in this league," Munnerlyn said. "The game is still going to be played Sunday at noon. Nobody will feel sorry for us, so we are going to go out there and compete at a very high level and get these wins."

Added safety Harrison Smith about injuries that have mounted since: "It's not really something that we dwell on too much. If you're on the field you're expected to make plays. This is how we play, nothing crazy about it. This is our mentality, it's genuine and this is how we do things around here."

Tight end Kyle Rudolph said Zimmer's impact might run even deeper, tracing it to seeds Zimmer sowed in 2014, his first season as a head coach.

"We feel like no matter who we have up, if we play the way we are supposed to, and play with the mentality that is smart disciplined football, we will like the end result in the fourth quarter," Rudolph said. "Guys have bought into that and we know it is important for guys to step up if we want to keep this thing going, but we hate to have guys go down."

Last week, Fusco went down early against the Texans, elevating Zac Kerin into his first significant action on offense with the Vikings. It caused a chain reaction where Nick Easton slid into the role of a blocking tight end, a position that Kerin had prepared for last week because the Vikings were without Rhett Ellison and David Morgan.

Bradford was asked after the Vikings defeated the Texans 31-13 if he said something extra in the huddle.

"No, I think that's been the greatest thing about this team so far just its resiliency," Bradford said. "We've overcome a lot of hurdles and some adversity early in the year. … We've had a lot of guys answer the call."

Xavier Rhodes, who missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury, has been a significant part of the Vikings shutting out Kelvin Benjamin in Carolina, taming a Giants receiving trio and corralling a Texans tandem in three straight weeks. Rhodes said it's about trusting the system and each other.

"We just hold everybody accountable. Everybody is doing what they need to do on this defense and on this team, period," Rhodes said. "If it isn't one person, it's always another. There's always one heartbeat. Somebody is always going to pick up somewhere, so it's a great thing that you can completely trust and believe in anyone on this team."

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