The 2011 season is over, but now is when the work begins.
As the Vikings conduct their final meetings of the year today and disperse to their homes throughout the country, they do so hoping to erase the memory of the 2011 season, but not forget it. Although they will be getting away from the game for a few weeks, the Vikings will be focusing their effort moving forward.
“We’re a better team than our record showed,” offensive lineman Phil Loadholt said. “There was a lot of disappointment, but we have a lot of talent in this locker room and are going to work hard. We had so many games that were close this year – one play could have made the difference between winning and losing. We know we should have won a lot of those games.”
Quarterback Christian Ponder said the Vikings have most of the pieces in place to being a success. The process of developing that rapport, starting with himself, is going to be the theme of the offseason.
“I think with this whole team, we have a lot of the right guys in place,” Ponder said. “We have to keep building. We have to keep learning. We have to spend a lot of time this offseason, especially on the offensive side of the ball, of learning this offense and growing comfortable with it and there are going to be a lot of guys sticking around that we’re going to stay with each other and put a lot of time and a lot of work in this offseason to get better.”
The frustration that the Vikings have felt the last two seasons, especially in a franchise-tying worst record of 3-13 in 2011, can serve as motivation. It has left a bad taste in the mouths of the players who have lived through it and can be used to flip the script moving forward.
“We have to learn from what happened this season,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “Nobody believes that 3-13 is an acceptable record. We need to work as a group and as individuals to make the improvement we need to make. A lot of the guys will want to forget this season, but that will be impossible. We know how many games we had that we could have won and should have won, but we didn’t make the plays to finish off games when we had the chance. We can’t just forget this season. If we do, it could become a habit and we don’t want to have another season like this.”
The playoffs are set and, as has become the habit in the NFL, the turnover of playoff teams has been pronounced. Of the 12 playoff teams, only six of them were in the playoffs last year – New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC and Green Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC.
The turnaround of records was very pronounced when it comes to division champions. Of the eight division champs from a year ago, only one of them (New England) repeated as division champ this year.
How quickly can teams turn things around? Of the 12 2011 playoff teams, five of them lost 10 or more games in 2010 – San Francisco, Detroit, Denver, Houston and Cincinnati. Had Dallas beat the Giants last night, half of the 2011 playoff field would have been coming off double-digit losses the previous year.
With the final numbers in on the regular season, the Vikings’ 2012 schedule is now officially set. The Vikings will play the teams in the NFC North twice each and, along with the rest of the division, will play eight games against the NFC West (San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis) and the AFC South (Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville). The Vikings two remaining games will be against the other two fourth-place teams in the NFC East and South Divisions, which means they will play Washington and Tampa Bay.
Thanks to the way the chips fell, the Vikings will have six games against 2011 playoff teams next year – Green Bay and Detroit twice and division champions Houston and San Francisco.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.