Thursday was an atypical Vikings locker room.
As someone who has been in more than a few late-December Vikings locker rooms – too many in a similar “playing it out” fashion – there has never been the impression that the team is simply mailing it in, but the mood in the Vikings locker room Thursday was more than just upbeat. It was a unified room of players who are having fun despite being eliminated from playoff competition.
Typically at this time of year when the team is out of contention (four of the last five years come to mind), the general mood in the locker room has been similar to what fans would envision 53 Jay Cutlers to be like – down, depressed and wearing it on their sleeves.
Instead, the 2014 Vikings aren’t letting their situation get the best of them. Almost to a man, when asked about the final two games, Vikings players talked about building momentum into next season. Such talk can be dismissed as merely telling the fan base what they want to hear, but this time it appears to be genuine.
The Vikings have endured a slew of injuries as well as losing their franchise player after Week 1, but there has never been the acceptance of defeat with this group. Whatever Kool Aid Mike Zimmer is serving up, the players are drinking it.
The players remain in high spirits and talking about these final two games as being stepping stones to next season. There isn’t the poisonous attitude that tended to permeate the locker room in previous “playing out the string” scenarios. The offense is getting experience for players who weren’t expected to play as big a role in the lineup as they have. The defense is getting closer by the week to becoming strong enough to win games even when the offense struggles.
It’s a different vibe.
It’s rare when Vikings players will run down the organization. Even in the last dark days of the Brad Childress administration, players remained generally loyal, at least publicly, even if resigned to the fact that the coaching staff was likely on its way out. The same was true last year with Leslie Frazier. Everyone figured change was coming, but the players remained loyal to their general and played to keep his job.
But this year there is a different feeling. Perhaps it’s that there are so many young players on the roster and not as many 30-something veterans that make up the core of the Vikings team. They are seeing the changes that have been implemented starting to bear fruit. It hasn’t been a “worst to first” type of ascent, but the improvement is tangible, not just to fans watching from the outside looking in, but from the players themselves.
The offense is starting to look more efficient with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. The defense is showing the signs of picking up the Zimmer scheme and executing it with much more consistent results. It isn’t there yet, but it’s similar to putting a puzzle together. Enough of the pieces have been laid out that it’s clear what the puzzle is supposed to look like. It’s just a matter of putting in the final few pieces to make it whole.
Zimmer commented earlier this week that if the Vikings win their final two games, all that means is that they’re a .500 team, which would make Zimmer “an average coach.” He has been anything but an average coach. Given the losses the Vikings have sustained this year on both sides of the ball, it would be easy to make excuses why the team currently sits at 6-8 and are out of playoff contention – although they would be tied for the lead in the NFC South. There aren’t any excuses coming from the 2014 Vikings.
The players are taking ownership of their record and their current lot in life. If there is any anger in the locker room it is centered on the belief that they should be better in the win-loss column than they are. There is no finger pointing. There is no blame assignment. Everyone is taking accountability for themselves and looking to erase the mistakes they’ve made in previous games and come into the next game with a fresh outlook and a strong approach.
You can bet the feeling isn’t the same in the Bears locker room right now. They had playoff aspirations when the season began, but their 2014 season has spiraled out of control to the point that they’ve benched their starting quarterback, as much to change things up as to protect him from injury because the process of trading him and his fat contract are going to begin in earnest sometime around Monday morning Dec. 29.
The fact of the matter is that, no matter how you spin it, losing bites. Nobody likes it. But how the players handle the difficult times makes the good times that much sweeter. The Vikings locker room Thursday was surprisingly upbeat because the players feel they’re on to something and that success is coming … soon. They’re not hanging their heads over their lot in life for 2014. They’re looking ahead to the future with optimism, convinced that better days are coming, and when they arrive they’re going to be ready for them and prepared to take the organization to the next level.
Holler: Vikings feeling good about future
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