A curt Mike Zimmer, clad with a baggy gray ensemble of sweatshirt and sweatpants, approached the Winter Park podium Monday afternoon. It was his second time in less than 24 hours speaking to the media. Just about 23 hours prior, he was mentally replaying the aftermath of his team’s first loss of the season to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The 21-10 fiasco against the up-and-coming Eagles from the NFC East spawned a long laundry list of correctables. “I thought we played” — Zimmer paused as he likely contemplated more colorful adjectives — “embarrassing, really, is the word, in at least two of the phases. Very disappointed in the performance we gave today. We turned the ball over offensively, we didn’t block people, we dropped balls, we got the quarterback hit, we got third and two inches and we didn’t convert on third down or fourth down, we got three shots in the red zone in the first half, we throw an interception, we give up a 98-yard kickoff return, we fumble a punt.
“If you’re going to do those things, you have no chance to win,” Zimmer concluded before asking for questions from a poor group of reporters, who likewise had no chance to win in the quote-gathering game that day from an unhappy head coach.
Minnesota laid an egg Sunday, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t the first time an NFL team has played a bad game. Believe it or not, the Vikings – who hadn’t lost a regular-season game in their last eight outings before Sunday – even delivered some clunkers in 2015. Their Week 1 loss to San Francisco last year was horrid (and Zimmer even brought it up on Monday afternoon). Their first game against Green Bay last season was a laugher by the end. They never got out of neutral in their regular-season game against Seattle.
The theme last year was not perfection; it was correction.
The theme last year was not perfection; it was correction. Zimmer’s club was 4-1 after losses, outscoring opponents 100-53 in the four wins. The lone loss came without four defensive starters on a Thursday night at Arizona – a game in which the Vikings were double-digit underdogs and lost 23-20 on a late field goal. Even the one-point playoff loss was a remarkable turnaround from Minnesota’s 38-7 to Seattle earlier in the season.
“The thing that I admire about the good teams is whether they win by 50 or they get beat by 50, they move on and they get ready to go,” said Zimmer. “We’ll work hard on correcting mistakes. We’ll work hard on getting people in the right place and doing the right things. Try to do a better job as coaches as well.”
While Zimmer’s immediate observations on Sunday were of the broad variety, he narrowed it down a bit more after his personal film review. He bristled at his team jumping offside inside the 5-yard line, rued the decision of two players who failed to get out of bounds during the team’s two-minute drill late in the game, almost laughed in exasperation at a player drawing a 15-yard penalty saying something to a referee.
it’s the subtle, mental mistakes – those that drip with a lack of discipline – that really grind Zimmer’s gears.
The third-year coach has preached situational awareness since he walked into Winter Park’s doors, so it’s the subtle, mental mistakes – those that drip with a lack of discipline – that really grind Zimmer’s gears. “Those are all dumb things,” said Zimmer. “We did several dumb things in this football game that we characteristically [don’t do]. We kind of pride ourselves on being a smart football team, and we did not do a lot of smart things in this game.”
The Vikings showed their mental fortitude last season in their response to defeat. In their four wins following a loss, they won the time of possession in each instance, rediscovering the run game. Adrian Peterson had performances of 134 (Week 2) and 158 yards (Week 12), and the team ran for 129 yards in another contest (Week 15). Fixing the run game is crucial for the Vikings moving forward. As poor as the pass protection has been, the run blocking has arguably been worse, and even intermittent fits and starts against Philadelphia didn’t get the motor running full throttle and only yielded 93 total yards and 3.4 yards per attempt on the ground.
An effective run game could help mask the passing game problems, which came to a head Sunday as the Vikings bumbled for 59-plus minutes sans a touchdown. Bradford was brought down or strip-sacked six times and only managed to reach the 200-yard mark because of garbage time. Offensive lines are only as strong as their weakest line, and that happened to be newcomer Jake Long, who managed to allow two strip sacks in a 13-play sampling. “I knew he’d be rusty going into the ball game,” said Zimmer. “He has been in pads one time in a year, so part of it was to get him some plays in there, because he had one day of pads this week, and we knew he’d be a little bit rusty, so it’s just the way it goes.”
Just when the Vikings seemed to have convinced the nation’s pundits they were legit, their poor showing eroded most of the public’s goodwill. Their greatest flaws now exposed, they get a chance on Halloween night to wash away the stresses of a stinging first loss against NFC North doormat Chicago – a tonic on the nerves of myriad struggling teams. “I do have faith in this football team,” said the head coach. “Obviously, faith is belief without proof, so right now I don’t any proof, so I have to have faith that we’ll get it done, and I think we will.”