Waking out of TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 23 following a loss to the Green Bay Packers, Matt Kalil had seen and heard enough and acted out against a fan, flipping his hat during an altercation.
The Minnesota Vikings left tackle’s strange season hit its breaking point.
Kalil had been penalized three times in a 24-21 loss at home to Green Bay. He left the locker room without speaking to the media before the incident with the fan outside the stadium. With time to reflect, Kalil knew he shouldn’t have let the situation get the best of him.
The best of him, at least in 2014, showed following his lowest moment.
"As far as what everyone else says, it’s not something I haven’t said to myself," Kalil said a day after Minnesota’s season ended. "I know what I have to do. If anything, everyone coming down on me this year it’s made me mentally tough, I’ve never had to face adversity like that. I’ll go into next year physically stronger than I’ve ever been and with all the adversity I’ve had to face, I’ll be mentally tough as well."
Kalil had been penalized nine times following the Week 12 game against Green Bay. He’d allowed 11 sacks in 11 games, according to Pro Football Focus, and plenty of pressure on Vikings quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus, which grades each game, figured Kalil had allowed 26 quarterback hurries and five quarterback hits through Week 12.
Throughout the season, Kalil said he was his toughest critic. The outside critics were pretty tough as well.
One realization was his knee, which required offseason surgery, had set him back. He had to trust his knee was healthy and strong, which took time. He also was behind because of the technical time he missed in the offseason while recovering.
"I thought I could get through it and I wasn’t able to," Kalil said of waiting on surgery. "The mindset wasn’t wait until OTAs to have surgery, it was something that I thought I could play through. The last thing that I want to do is have surgery on my knee. I think you want to avoid at all costs. It was something I had to do, my knee was swelling up a lot.
"I decided to have it and now learning from that, the earlier you can have that stuff done, the better because you spend a month rehabbing healing up and you could spend the rest of the offseason working on strengthening or O-line specific stuff or technique drills and all that."
Kalil hadn’t deal with many injuries in his career. Like the backlash he received much of the year, recovering from surgery was new territory. He said he took for granted his usual offseason preparation and what it was like to be truly healthy.
"My whole career that’s what I strived on is offseason doing a lot of fundamental stuff and working on my technique," Kalil said. "This was the first offseason not doing that and it showed."
Something changed for Kalil after the incident with the fan. Kalil was slowly feeling better and in the final five weeks, he allowed just one sack, according to Pro Football Focus. His penalties dipped, with just three — one of which was declined — in the final five games.
Kalil was the No. 4 overall pick for Minnesota in the 2012 draft and made his way to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He realizes the expectations he set initially.
After the season, Kalil said his knee is still "not 100 percent" but is doing well. He’ll have it checked and get stronger earlier this offseason. He faces an important offseason. He’ll need to return to his rookie form and Minnesota has to decide whether to exercise the option on a fifth year of his contract, a clause in place for all first-round draft picks.
"It’s important," Kalil said of this offseason. "Obviously I set the bar high my rookie season, so that’s the expectations of me for the rest of my career; if I don’t do that or if I do, do that. As far as I critique myself, I know how I’m doing and the level that I play at. It’s just about getting my body on that same level and being super sharp when OTAs come and keep sharpening that skillset so when the season comes I’m not behind and I’m ahead of the curve and ready to go."