Vikings see progress, with plenty to fix

The Vikings have been competitive in their last two games against the NFC North co-leaders, but they see the difference between wins and losses in the mistakes they make.

The frustrating losses in coach Mike Zimmer’s first year with Minnesota have piled up higher than the signature wins.

The latest example came on Sunday at Detroit, when the Vikings let a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter slip into a narrow defeat by the Lions.

The Vikings controlled much of the game against the NFC North co-leaders, a stark contrast from the first matchup the Lions dominated two months ago, but they were ultimately done in by a handful of mistakes.

The patchwork offensive line played capably against one of the best fronts in the league, Teddy Bridgewater completed a career-high 31 passes and the defense allowed only 233 total yards. But two interceptions and three missed field goals proved to be more than the Vikings could overcome in the 16-14 loss.

“Bottom line is we want to be a playoff team. We want to be one of those teams in the race or leading the division,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “When we play a team like that, we know that’s the type of ball that we can play.”

After falling to 6-8, their long-shot wild-card bid now mathematically impossible, the Vikings have one tangible motivation left for 2014. They play at Miami this week and finish the year at home against Chicago, with another opportunity for Zimmer’s first NFC North victory.

“To be even at .500, that’s a good goal,” left tackle Matt Kalil said, adding: “It’s two games that we can definitely win.”

Zimmer was irritated after the Vikings beat the New York Jets in overtime on Dec. 7, believing that game should have been sealed long before the winning score. This time, against a better opponent, the coach sounded more understanding and appreciative even as he was dissatisfied with another defeat.

“I get calls and texts from people and coaches, and they say what a good football team we look like and the things we’re doing right and the things that we’re doing,” Zimmer said on Monday. “And maybe they’re just telling me to be nice. I don’t think that. But we’re doing so many good things.”

The interceptions and missed kicks aside, the Vikings still had two late drives to move into position for victory. But a holding penalty and a failure to get out of bounds and stop the clock, and the signs of a still-maturing team were apparent in the clutch.

“My mindset has not changed. As I told the team, we’re going to stick with it, keep working on getting better because we’ve got something to build for the future,” Zimmer said.

Bridgewater, fittingly, has been a microcosm of this team’s status. For the third straight week, Bridgewater completed more than 70 percent of his passes. He turned in his second straight 300-yard game. But two errant throws in the second quarter were picked off by the Lions, leading to 10 points.

“The good thing is Teddy is getting a lot of these experiences,” Zimmer said. “The on-the-job training he’s getting I really believe will bode well for him in the future and for us as an organization and as a team.”

At this point it can be easy to forget that Bridgewater was supposed to be the backup to Matt Cassel this year. Zimmer said he was nervous early in the season about the rookie getting “beat up” both physically and mentally and becoming “gun shy” after the inevitable struggles.

“He learns from a lot of the experiences he’s had. I expect him to continue to improve in those ways. I’m really glad that he’s playing. I’m glad that we’re keeping him upright,” Zimmer said.

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