EAGAN, Minn. — It was simultaneously a lifelong dream but not at all what Stephen Weatherly had hoped for.
When the third-year defensive end heard his name boom through the speaker system at U.S. Bank Stadium, he ran through the ship in the team's entry tunnel and beneath the fire-breathing dragon on the mast.
The 2016 seventh-round pick in 2016 was making his first NFL start, in front of the home crowd, and his mother was in the stands.
Weatherly stepped in for Everson Griffen, who was out with a knee injury and not at the game because of a personal matter. The Vikings organization is continuing to provide support for Griffen, who will not play for the Vikings against the Rams in Los Angeles on Thursday.
On Sunday, Weatherly recorded his first career sack by taking down Bills rookie QB Josh Allen, but the prevailing emotion was driven by Buffalo's 27-6 upset that was fueled by Minnesota's turnovers.
"It was definitely bittersweet, getting my first start and my first sack, but also because family was there," Weatherly explained. "I couldn't really go home and celebrate the way I wanted. My family was excited to some degree, but they would rather see a 'W' over personal success."
Asked to reflect on his personal experience, Weatherly said, "That's a really big thing for anyone who has played this game since Pop Warner, 'I just started my first NFL game.'
"There were some plays I left out there, some things I didn't do so well," Weatherly added. "You can't be perfect, but you can try your best to stay within the scheme of the defense."
Weatherly opened opposite fourth-year pro Danielle Hunter, who recorded a sack for the third consecutive week, and second-year pro Tashawn Bower subbed in a rotation. Hunter played 60 of Minnesota's 67 defensive snaps, Weatherly played 51, and Bower was in for 22.
Weatherly and Hunter said the Vikings miss Griffen's presence but want him to focus on what's best for him. Weatherly's locker is next to Griffen's at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and Griffen has shared with Weatherly what he's learned over the years.
"It's tough. I'd much rather have him here, not only as a teammate but as someone who I lean on personally," Weatherly said. "We're going to continue to play hard and do it for him."
In terms of filling in for the three-time Pro Bowler (2015-17 seasons) and 2017 Second-Team All-Pro by the Associated Press, Weatherly said it's a shared opportunity against a high-octane Rams offense that's averaged 34.0 points through three games (tied for third) and ranks third in the NFL in offense (439.3 yards per game).
Los Angeles is sixth in rushing and tied for fourth in passing so far this season. The Rams also lead the NFL in third-down efficiency, having converted 20 of 37 (54.1 percent) in opening the season with three wins.
Weatherly said the Vikings will focus on "everyone doing their jobs" but not trying to do too much in Head Coach Mike Zimmer's defense. Minnesota limited the Rams to one touchdown in a 24-7 win last fall.
"The good thing about Coach Zim's defense is that it doesn't require any superheroes," Weatherly said. "We'll step up, all 11 men, one play at a time, do your job — nothing more, nothing less."
Hunter said players will come together to move past Sunday's upset by the Bills.
"We'll be doing this for Everson," Hunter said. "Stephen is going to be there. He's going to be able to come in with Tashawn and all of that. We all just come together as a group. It's all about just playing your job and playing for each other."