Citing a young team and adversity through injuries and legal issues, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman tried to summarize where things stand as the Vikings headed into their bye week with a 4-5 record.
“I don’t think we’re ever satisfied. I think you’re always continuing to try to get better and we want to continue to improve this football team,” Spielman said during a 30-minute roundtable session with reporters on Tuesday. “We’re just in the very infant part of this program and taking on what coach (Mike) Zimmer wants (from) this football team, and our team is responding very well. But, like I said, there is still a lot of growth to go yet. But I can say we are heading in a positive direction.”
The Vikings are one game under .500 and in third place in the four-team NFC North, but they have also won their last two games and are starting to show signs of improvement.
After the 2013 Vikings lost five leads in the final minute of games, resulting in four losses and one tie, the Vikings have won their last two games with fourth-quarter comebacks. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t thrown an interception in the last two games, and the pass defense – once an Achilles heel of the team – is now ranked fourth in the NFL.
Where all that takes them after the bye remains to be seen.
“I don’t put any goals out about what’s successful. To me, the only time you’re ever successful is when you win a Super Bowl or else you can see progress, but we’re all in this business for one reason and that’s to win a championship,” Spielman said. “Right now, our focus with our team and stuff is what do we have to do this week in the bye to get better and what do we have to do to get ready for Chicago.”
The Vikings have this Sunday off, but they are currently ninth in the NFC and hoping to make up ground in the final seven games. Four of those will be at home, five of those are against NFC opponents, including four games against NFC North teams. That leaves them plenty of opportunities to turn their fate around.
It would be quite the accomplishment if they can do that considering injuries to starting quarterback Matt Cassel and right guard Brandon Fusco, whose seasons are over, and legal entanglements that led to the release of receiver Jerome Simpson and the placing of star running back Adrian Peterson on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list after the season opener.
“We came out and played very well in the preseason and we had a good opening game, and then I think we went through some adverse times, not only with the Adrian situation, but a lot of the injuries that we had to deal with,” Spielman said. “And we had to play a lot of guys that were rookies, a lot of guys that maybe aren’t household names but are getting their opportunities to showcase what they can do.”
Three rookies – Bridgewater, Anthony Barr and Jerick McKinnon – have been regular starters. McKinnon and Bridgewater were expected to be backups when the season started.
The offense has been without Peterson, Cassel, Fusco and tight end Kyle Rudolph for the majority of the season because of injuries, causing continuous adjustments for veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
“Norv’s been dealt with some different scenarios. You go in envisioning one thing in the season, and things happen, but every team has to deal with some issues that happen,” Spielman said. “I think as you grow with a rookie quarterback, and as you grow with the different replacements on offense, you’ve got to start to figure out, ‘OK, now we’ve got to do some little things differently, or tweak this or tweak that, and how do we do that?’ They’re learning our players as much as our players are learning what they want, too, because they have never worked with these guys.”
Through nine games, the Vikings have scored 168 points. Only two other teams that have played nine games have scored fewer.
But despite all the trouble the Vikings have faced since August, they will have a shot to turn the season around with plenty of NFC North opportunities in the next two months.
“It’ll be interesting to see where we were when we played those division games earlier,” Spielman said, “and then how much our team has progressed as we get ready to go into this last stretch of the season.”
GM Spielman: ‘We went through adverse times’
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