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Vikings experience bitter end to season
The sting of falling one step short of being the first team to play the Super Bowl in its own stadium will last a while and will be acerbated when thousands of Philadelphia Eagles fans frolic through the streets of Minneapolis in the week leading up to Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But when Sunday's 38-7 loss at Philadelphia does indeed fade into preparations for the 2018 season, the Minnesota Vikings will be a young, talented defensive-oriented team that will contend for Super Bowl LIII.
"Right now, you don't really think about the entire year as a whole," wide receiver Adam Thielen said on Monday. "I think I spent the entire plane ride home, and probably a couple hours in bed, thinking about the plays I could have made or routes I could have ran differently. That's just how it always is. It doesn't really matter what happens throughout the season; you only really remember the last play that you ran. It will be a good learning experience, and we'll have to use this to our advantage moving forward."
Moving forward, the Vikings have 10 defensive starters under contract - everyone except tackle Tom Johnson and expect a full return to health for rookie Dalvin Cook, who had the makings of being the team's most dynamic player before tearing an ACL in Week 4.
But, naturally, the team's biggest offseason talker will be what to do at the quarterback position. The top three quarterbacks - Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater - will become free agents unless one of them receives a franchise tag or signs a new contract prior to the start of the league year on March 14.
There are arguments for and against all three becoming the quarterback going forward.
Bradford played one of his best games in the season opener. But he injured the left knee that's bothered him for years and missed all but two quarters the rest of the season.
Keenum went 12-2 in relief of Bradford and threw the "Minneapolis Miracle" touchdown pass that won the team's first playoff game in eight years. But he's a career journeyman with limited arm strength and is less likely to be the guy who can carry a team the way franchise quarterbacks are paid to do.
And Bridgewater showed he could return from the devastating knee injury that knocked him out of the entire 2016 season. But he looked rusty in his one half of action and was inactive in the playoffs as the Vikings went with Bradford as their backup.
The Vikings also will need to replace offensive coordinator Pat Shurmu, who was officially named head coach of the Giants the day after the loss to the Eagles. Shurmur did an outstanding job keeping the Vikings in the top 10 offensively despite the losses of Bradford and Cook, as well injuries up front that forced eight different offensive line combinations this year.
"In the NFL, a lot of stuff happens all the time," safety Harrison Smith said. "We'll see where we're at. We didn't play at a high level when it counted (Sunday)."