At practice on Friday, Kirk Cousins said that he spotted a house that belonged in a blockbuster movie. If he needed a reminder, this was it. He wasn’t in Eagan anymore.
“There’s a novelty to [playing in London] that’s fun and is a break from the traditional routine of the week,” said Cousins, “and then you want to have routine and normalcy as best you can to feel ready to kick off.
“So you try to stick to your routine, knowing that’s a little unrealistic, and enjoy the fact that it was such a cool practice out there with looking out at the rolling hills. Looking out at one of the homes in the distance looked like the Skyfall mansion in the James Bond movie. It just had a cool feel to it.”
Many people have impressive homes in Eagan, but there are few that 007 would deem worthy of a break-in. No matter how much Kevin O’Connell and his staff want to establish a sense of normalcy, there’s no way to make Friday’s practice feel like it took place at the TCO Performance Center. Still, they’re trying to keep players in their routine this week.
“Once we got here, it felt like a pretty normal Friday for us,” O’Connell said. “We had our normal amount of meetings, took care of installing some things in the red zone, and then what we call a fast Friday practice where we get out and execute some of those things.”
Still, it would be hard to blame Cousins or any of the Vikings players if they let their minds wander a little bit. They practiced at the Hanbury Manor, a sprawling, historic property north of London with an 18-hole golf course tucked among majestic rolling hills. And it’s not just the setting. Their flight took off at 5:30 pm CT and landed around 1 a.m. body time. They practiced at 9 a.m. CT and will play a football game at 8:30 am CT on Sunday. They’ll return home and have to play the Chicago Bears at noon in Week 5.
“We’re trying to make this as normal as possible,” O’Connell continued. “These guys are all in their routines by the day throughout the season. We’ve had the benefit of really having played at four different game times now, body clock-wise. Monday Night Football, late window in the opener, and then last weekend at 12 o’clock at US Bank, so our guys are just gonna have to adjust on the fly. We’ll continue to find our rhythm, but I feel good about where we’re at.”
The best thing O’Connell can do for the Vikings is to make things normal. A franchise known for the Love Boat and the Whizzinator could use a heavy dose of it. But the NFL handed Minnesota a unique schedule to start the season. They played the Green Bay Packers at 3:25 pm in Week 1, then played the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football on the road a week later. Last week’s game against the Detroit Lions was their only noon game so far. They’ve had to work all season to establish normalcy.
But they should hit a soft spot full of noon games soon. Suppose they beat an inferior New Orleans Saints team on Sunday and can adequately prepare for Chicago after playing overseas. Then the Vikings will have positioned themselves to have one of the best records in the NFC heading into their Week 10 game in Buffalo. Their next four games after returning stateside are Chicago, at the Miami Dolphins, a bye week, the Arizona Cardinals at home, and on the road against the Washington Commanders. All four are at noon central time.
Half of the battle will be settling into a routine during that stretch. That way, they can make winning normal. Win on Sunday, review on Monday, day off Tuesday, and then spend the rest of the week preparing for anything their opponent will throw at them. They haven’t been able to do that much this year. Still, they’re 2-1 with the opportunity to use the Saints game as a catalyst to go on a run early in the season.
The Saints traveled to London immediately after losing to the Carolina Panthers last week. They hope that the players’ body clocks will be adjusted over the week, and Sunday’s game will feel routine to them. But Cousins played last time he played in London, throwing for 458 yards in a 27-27 tie in 2016. He approved of O’Connell and his staff’s plans to arrive on Friday and said he felt settled in.
“My recommendations going back to the spring when they asked me, I definitely said to do a bunch of the same,” he said. “Even Thursday night, the last time flying through the night worked well. I think you have to be diligent with how you acclimate and be focused today, get a good practice in, but I think it’s also helpful to just have the experience and understand the crowd a little better and the stadium, the energy.”
There never will be a perfect sense of normalcy in the NFL. Anyone can win on any given Sunday. Impact players miss games; stars occasionally fail to perform to their standards. The Vikings have certainly had their fair share of strange challenges. But in the big picture, they want to establish a worldwide fanbase and play in primetime games. And, more immediately, if they take care of business in London and are prepared for Chicago, they could be 7-1 heading into a matchup with Stefon Diggs in Buffalo.