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Vikings determined to not fall apart after bye this time

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) reacts at press conference during practice at the Hazelwood Centre in London on Oct. 27, 2017. Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Defensive tackle Tom Johnson doesn't deny it. The Vikings got caught up last year in reading their press clippings.

The Vikings were 5-0 entering the bye week, and all sorts of good things were being said and written about them. Then they collapsed, losing four straight games and eight of their final 11 to finish 8-8 and miss out on the playoffs.

After Sunday's 33-16 victory over the winless Cleveland Browns at London's Twickenham Stadium, the Vikings are 6-2 heading into their bye week. And they are determined not to have a repeat of last year.

"We've got to stay locked in," Johnson said. "We can't pat yourself on the back. We can't take the cheese. We can't listen to the media. We've got to stay humble and continue to grind.

"We definitely did (get caught up last year in what the media was saying). I think at some point in time we got complacent. We didn't come out and execute like we were supposed to. So this year we're learning from our mistakes, and guys are a little older and a little more experienced. We have great leadership, and we're trying to continue to push through."

After taking this week off, the Vikings next play at Washington on Nov. 12. That could serve as motivation since one of the losses during the four-game skid last year out of the bye week was 26-20 to the Redskins in D.C.

"Washington beat us last year," nose tackle Linval Joseph said. "They're next on the list, and we want to be 7-2."

After what happened last season, Joseph said the Vikings will approach things differently after the bye week.

"We're taking it one game at a time," Joseph said. "A lot of guys are healthy, and we're ready to go. Right now, we're hungry and everybody wants to win."

Although the Vikings were undefeated last year, injuries were an issue entering the bye week, and they caught up with them. Running back Adrian Peterson, who injured his knee in Week 2, played in just one more game the rest of the season. Injuries were beginning to mount on the offensive line, as well.

Minnesota has had key players hurt this season, most prominently quarterback Sam Bradford, who has missed six of the past seven games with a knee issue, and running back Dalvin Cook, lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in Week 4. But Case Keenum has stepped up at quarterback, and Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have provided a solid one-two punch in the backfield.

The Vikings have had injuries in recent weeks on the offensive line, but improved depth has enabled them to much better withstand them.

The Vikings, who have won four straight, will practice Tuesday before they are off until next Monday. McKinnon said they've "got to keep focused and keep grinding" when they return to game action.

"We can't get comfortable," said defensive end Everson Griffen. "We've got to come back on fire."

Griffen is confident that will happen.

"This is the best team I've been a part of," said Griffen, an eight-year veteran. "This year we're more dialed in."

Griffen played on the 2012 Vikings team that made playoffs as a wild card and the 2015 team that won the NFC North. Last year, the Vikings looked as if they might be better than those two entering the bye week.

Then came the collapse. The Vikings lost games at Philadelphia, at Chicago, at home against Detroit and at Washington.

This year, the Vikings face a similarly difficult stretch of road games after the bye: at Washington on Nov. 12, at Detroit on Nov. 23, at Atlanta on Dec. 3 and at Carolina on Dec. 10.

That stretch will determine success or failure this season.

"It's definitely a good learning experience," linebacker Anthony Barr said of last year. "You hate to go through it at the time, but I think looking back on it, we know we've got to come out (after the bye) and play the same way we played all season. We can't take any teams lightly."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.