Vikings' physicality vs. 49ers squelches doubts
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings had entered Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers hearing all about how they were the prototype, physical team in the NFL.
San Francisco was led by running the ball and stopping the run, just the M.O. Minnesota had been known for, for years. The Vikings had heard enough about the 49ers and their physicality. Coach Leslie Frazier was tired of hearing about San Francisco leading the way in tough, physical play.
"I didn't share with you, but I shared with our team that burned me up because I really feel like here, we have set the template on how to run the ball, how to defend the run," Frazier said after Sunday's game. "I wanted our team to know that there are doubts about the physicality of our football team and our guys responded."
No doubts remain about Minnesota's ability to play physical and return to their old ways of running the ball and stopping the run after Sunday's 24-13 win against the previously undefeated 49ers, who played in the NFC championship game last year. The Vikings challenged themselves with an aggressive, physical game plan wanting to beat San Francisco at its own game, the type of game Minnesota was known for and wants to still emulate.
The Vikings ran the ball 41 times in Sunday's win, held the 49ers to 89 total yards rushing, and the defense sacked quarterback Alex Smith three times, while leading the turnover battle and limiting turnovers.
"Anytime you're going to be challenged from a physical respect in football, it's either you stand up and get it done or you don't," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
Following the game, Minnesota's defensive players felt like it was a throwback to the years when they led the league in stopping the run three straight seasons. Players talked about having a "lunch pail" attitude and responding strongly to the previous week's loss at Indianapolis.
The Vikings played Sunday with an attitude. As Jared Allen said after the game, "we smack people in the mouth and get after it."
Whether it was coach's speeches, or players addressing the team, the message was simple: Get tough. And Minnesota answered the challenge against the team that had succeeded with a similar style.
"Liked the way our players really accepted the challenge that was presented to them throughout the week as we are trying to adhere to what we want our identity to be as a football team," Frazier said. "We want to be a smart football team. We want to be a tough football team. We want to be a disciplined football team. And I thought there was evidence of that throughout the game yesterday. There were a lot of areas that kind of speak to the team characteristics we want to embody."
The Vikings are focused on changing the mentality and building off Sunday's win. The veteran players from those physical teams know what needs to change to bring the same attitude on a weekly basis. Now it's about getting the younger players up to speed.
"You've got to make a template of what you want to be, and we were able to create that this week," Greenway said. "If you have that on film and on paper, then you know what it feels like, you know what it tastes like, what it feels like at the end of a game. That's what's important, is to get that out there and to be able to now replicate that again. So, I think that was big. Now it's about how often we can play at that level consistently."
Setting a tone was obvious on Minnesota's first drive, when coaches didn't hesitate at all in going for it on fourth-down from the 1-yard line, which ended with quarterback Christian Ponder's first touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.
"It was important, I thought from my standpoint, to let our players know; and I talked to them all week that we were going to be aggressive, weren't going to back down," Frazier said.
Aggressiveness is a style which competitive players can embrace.
"Any time coach's willing to be aggressive with you, talking day-in and day-out about being aggressive, you know you can go out there and cut it loose," receiver Percy Harvin said. "Sometimes the penalties will come, but you've got to be smart. I think being smart and aggressive is a fine line, but we did a good job yesterday."
Changing a mentality, the attitude, was the sole focus during a pivotal week after a disappointing last-second loss to the Colts. The Vikings want to return to their long-held ideals of running the ball, stopping the run, and being physical. Doing so against the current leader in said categories in San Francisco went a long way in believing in what had been preached all week.
Now the objective is maintaining the aggressiveness and truly changing the mentality for a team trying to prove it's capable of so much more than last year's 3-13 record.
"We've got to keep emphasizing that that's the style that we want to play," Frazier said. "I think they bought into that. And now I think we have to keep emphasizing that as a staff and they got to believe in it and feel like they don't have to play any different way just because someone has success doing it this way or that way, this is how we are successful. I think this will go a long way in helping our guys believe this is the way we have to play."
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