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5 years after last visit, Vikings ready to ‘get it going’ in return to London

On Sunday, the Vikings will be back in London, facing the New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Four players remain from the 2017 team who will play again in England: edge rusher Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks, safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Adam Thielen.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen celebrates after scoring on an 18-yard touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during an NFL International Series game Oct. 29, 2017, at Twickenham Stadium in London.
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports file art
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In 2017, the Minnesota Vikings made it to the NFC Championship Game. And one of their stops along the way was in London.

In Week 8 that season, Minnesota walloped the Cleveland Browns 33-16 at Twickenham Stadium.

On Sunday, the Vikings will be back in London, facing the New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Four players remain from the 2017 team who will play again in England: edge rusher Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks, safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Adam Thielen. (Running back Dalvin Cook was a rookie in 2017 but was sidelined for that season in Week 4 with a knee injury).

“I feel great about it, man,” Hunter said. “I enjoyed it the last time. We’ve been anticipating this. It’s been five years since we’ve been over there. I’m excited about it.”

Since playing in London in 2017, Hunter has made several trips back to England. He has some cousins originally from his native Jamaica and some friends from his college days at LSU who live in Manchester, which is four hours northwest of London.

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“They know more about football over there than you think,” Hunter said. “I was just over there in the summertime and (fans) were all talking about the plays.”

Kendricks also is excited to play again in London. He said he has developed a special relationship with international fans.

“I love my people in the U.K. (United Kingdom), so let’s get it going,” Kendricks said. “I feel like on my social media, people from the U.K. and Germany and Brazil, they always try to reach out to me, so I get love from my people internationally.”

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
General overall view of Twickenham Stadium in London during an NFL International Series game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 29, 2017
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports file photo

Smith is in line for his third appearance in London, having also played there in 2013, when the Vikings defeated Pittsburgh 34-27 in their first international regular-season game. He sat out last Sunday’s 28-24 win over Detroit due to a concussion, but head coach Kevin O’Connell expects him to return to face the Saints.

The slide

Thielen also was in London for the 2013 game, but was then on the practice squad and watched from the sidelines. He made his London debut in 2017 and was named Man of the Match by catching five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. After his 18-yard TD grab in the second quarter from Case Keenum, he did a soccer slide in the end zone to celebrate.

“(It’s) another great opportunity in a different country in front of different fans, which I think is pretty special,” Thielen said of Sunday’s game.’

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For the Vikings’ previous two Sunday games in London, in 2013 they left on Monday night and arrived on Tuesday morning and in 2017 they left on Wednesday night and arrived on Thursday morning. When it was announced May 4 that the Vikings would be heading overseas once again, Thielen told the NFL Network he hoped the team would leave earlier than in 2017 because he “felt like I was like in a different world because we flew in and flew out” and he had a “little bit of jet lag.”

As it turns out, the Vikings will leave later this time, flying out Thursday night. They will arrive in London on Friday morning, four days after the Saints, who left Sunday night from Charlotte, N.C., after their 22-14 loss there to Carolina and got in Monday morning.

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O’Connell said the Vikings conducted research and talked to a number of players who have made the trip before making this year’s travel decisions. He said the team “wants to stay on Central Time” and have “a good week of practice” Wednesday and Thursday in Minnesota before adjusting to the six-hour time difference and conducting a practice Friday in London.

“It was a completely different situation before,” Thielen said of the Vikings having a bye week after the 2017 game in London but not one after this Sunday’s game. “We didn’t play the next week, so I believe that’s why we’re kind of going over there a little later. I don’t question a thing that this organization is doing right now because they’re trying to put us in the best position to win.”

Vikings defensive end Jonathan Bullard played in London last season with Atlanta against the New York Jets and called it a “cool experience.” The Falcons left on Thursday night and arrived on Friday morning, and Bullard said he didn’t have jet lag after the eight-hour flight because he has the ability to “sleep pretty well on planes.”

However, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t expecting to feel great after getting off the plane Friday. Cousins played for Washington in a 27-27 tie with Cincinnati in 2016 in London. He still holds the London record for most passing yards in a game with 458.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
Security and fans line the outside of Twickenham Stadium in London on Oct. 29, 2017, for an NFL International Series game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns.
Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports file photo

“You get off the plane Friday morning in the U.K. and you’re a zombie and you go to your Friday practice and fight through that,” Cousins said. “It takes toughness to say, ‘I don’t care how I feel, I have to block that out. I got to dial in.’ … By Saturday, you feel like you’re starting to get settled and you go play.”

Cousins, though, did call it a “unique opportunity” to play again in London. And Hunter agreed.

“I know we’ve got fans from all over the world, and I know it’s a plus to be able to go to a different country and play in front of them,” Hunter said.

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