Leslie Frazier has moved on since being fired in Minnesota, settling into a position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that hasn’t allowed much time to ponder what went wrong in his old job.
The former Chicago Bears star and long-time NFL assistant spent seven seasons with the Vikings, the final three as head coach. He led them to the playoffs two years ago, but was dismissed last winter after a 5-10-1 finish.
When his old team faces his new one Sunday, the Bucs defensive coordinator insists his lone objective will be helping struggling Tampa Bay (1-5) creep back into the NFC South race — not gaining personal satisfaction by handing the sputtering Vikings (2-5) a fourth consecutive loss.
“When you’re sitting where we’re at as a team, 1-5 overrides everything,” Frazier said. “You look where our division is, and you realize this win could get us started. That really supersedes everything else. Our being able to get a win would be so good for our team and what we’re trying to get accomplished this season.”
That’s typical Frazier: polite, low-key and understated.
He’s also right. Despite dropping five of their first six games and ranking 30th among 32 teams in offense and dead last in defense, the Bucs are very much alive in a division where none of their rivals has a winning record.
The flip side is neither the defense, which was expected to be a strength, nor an offense that’s been outscored 123-27 before halftime this season, showed indications of rebounding to rise above Carolina (3-3-1), New Orleans (2-4) and Atlanta (2-5) to contend for a playoff berth.
“I look at the big picture,” said coach Lovie Smith, in his first season of trying to turn around a franchise that hasn’t earned a postseason berth since 2007. “The big picture is the leader in our division has two more wins than we do. There’s so much football left to go.”
That’s a tune the Vikings can sing, too, although they enter Sunday trailing NFC North co-leaders Detroit and Green Bay by three games.
Overcoming their slow start will be difficult, too, especially with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater playing earlier than first-year coach Mike Zimmer anticipated.
The 32nd pick in the draft won his first start against the Falcons on Sept. 28. He tossed his first touchdown pass during last week’s 17-16 loss to Buffalo.
“Teddy has been a little bit up and down. … He’s got a bunch of learning experiences. I really like this kid, his mentality, his toughness, really the way he throws the ball and the way he carries himself,” Zimmer said. “We’re hoping that he continues on the track that we expect him to.”
Ideally, the Bucs would like to take advantage of the rookie’s inexperience.
But with a pass rush that hasn’t produced a sack in the past two games, and a banged-up secondary coming off an outing in which Baltimore’s Joe Flacco threw for five TDs in the first 16:03 of a 48-17 rout, Frazier cautions Tampa Bay’s focus has be on getting better — not on any particular player on Minnesota’s offense.
Still, he likes what he’s seen of Bridgewater.
“He’s handled situations pretty good his first few starts. He’s shown a lot of poise, a lot of composure,” Frazier said. “He looks like a guy who’s going to continue to grow and get better. That being said, you’d like to be able to find a way to rattle a young quarterback as much as you can.”
Meanwhile, several Vikings who played for Frazier said it will be good to see him again.
“It will be interesting. Obviously I’ve been with the guy for a long time and I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as a coach. It will be fun to play against, to compete against him,” linebacker Chad Greenway said, adding that last week Minnesota faced Fred Pagac, now the linebackers coach in Buffalo.
“He holds a special place in my heart for sure, and Leslie is kind of the same way,” Greenway added. “You go with a guy for that long, you’ve been through some stuff.”
Things to watch when the Vikings and Bucs try to get their seasons on track:
NO QB CONTROVERSY: Even though Josh McCown returned to practice this week, second-year pro Mike Glennon is expected to make his fourth start of the season for Tampa Bay. McCown has been sidelined with an injured thumb on his throwing hand since Week 3.
SPUTTERING VIKINGS: If there’s an offense that rivaled Tampa Bay’s offense this season, it’s Minnesota. The Vikings, who’ve had to play without the suspended Adrian Peterson, are 29th in yards per game at 309.1, just ahead of the Bucs’ 306.8.
SOFT CHALLENGE: Bucs DT Gerald McCoy says the team has to get tougher, both physically and mentally, if it’s going to shed a “soft” image and turn its season around.
START FASTER: One of Tampa Bay’s priorities during last week’s bye was to explore ways to start games faster. The Bucs have scored 17 points in the first quarter and just 10 in the second.
YOUNG TEDDY: Bridgewater has appeared in four games, starting three. He’s thrown for 812 yards, one TD and five interceptions. He’s also been sacked 15 times.
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