The Minnesota Vikings’ first-year head coach had been talking all last week about needing to finish games and playing strong in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve been talking to the team a little bit this week about my message, even when I first came in here is, being a tough, physical, smart football team,” Zimmer said on Wednesday.
Four days later, the Vikings weren’t particularly tough, physical or smart late in the 37-35 loss.
Despite scoring two touchdowns in an 11-second span on offense to turn a 28-20 deficit into a 35-28 lead with 4:35 to play in the game, the Vikings ended up surrendering the final nine points of the game, gave up 23 total points in the fourth quarter and lost the 14-0 lead they had built in the first half.
“We were trying to pressure them. They played good. Our defense (has) got to play way better,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We’re way better than this. It’s very disappointing that we lost this game.”
The Vikings gave 12 first downs in the fourth quarter along – nine through air, two on the ground and one with a critical penalty. The Dolphins were 4-for-5 on third downs in the fourth quarter, too.
The compilation of it all – the poor defensive showing, the loss on a blocked punt for a safety, and the ninth loss of the season – had Zimmer understandably upset and not in much of a mood to expand on his answers during his postgame presser.
“He’s mad,” Griffen said. “You know? Mad.”
“Tough teams win in the fourth quarter and I don’t think that we’ve done that enough, yet,” Zimmer said last week, unknowingly foreshadowing the meltdown in Miami. “That’s kind of my message is that part of the toughness mentality that I’m trying to bring is about the fourth quarter.”
The Vikings entered the game with the sixth-ranked pass defense in the NFL but gave up 396 yards passing to Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins on 35 of 47 passing. Tannehill finished with four touchdown passes, took only two sacks, had one interception and produced a 118.8 passer rating.
Last week, Zimmer wisely avoided giving an assessment of his defense for the season with two games to go. Again, it was almost a foreshadowing.
“There’s still a lot of football to be played. I had a defense in Dallas one time that was really good, I think we were fifth in the league at one time and the last four games we didn’t play worth a lick, and we ended up 13th in the league,” he said, “so I’d just as soon wait until we finish up and we’ll see where it goes.”
On Sunday, it went down. The sixth-ranked pass defense fell to eighth and the Vikings have only one more game to write the final chapter of the tale of Mike Zimmer’s defense in his first year at the helm.
GREENWAY PLAYS WITH HEAVY HEART
Linebacker Chad Greenway started on Sunday despite the death of his father Alan on Friday night. He was at the team’s Winter Park practice facility on Saturday and told the FOX broadcast crew covering the game that he wanted to emphasize his appreciation for the community of Mount Vernon, S.D. for helping with the family farm over the last two year-plus years as Alan fought leukemia.
“Chad cares about the Minnesota Vikings an awful lot and that’s what he told me his father would want him to do – was go play,” Zimmer said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his mom.”
Greenway was knocked out of the game with a knee injury in the first half, finishing with three tackles, a half a sack, and quarterback hurries.
TWO PLAYS TO QUESTION
The Vikings had a couple of decisions that left them open to questioning.
With Matt Asiata running well and averaging 4.8 yards on his first nine carries, the Vikings faced third-and-1 from the Minnesota 42-yard line at the start of the second quarter. But instead of going to Asiata, Bridgewater tried to pitch wide to Cordarrelle Patterson, who was met quickly by two defenders for a 2-yard loss. It was the only possession of the Vikings’ first three that they didn’t score a touchdown.
Patterson motioned into the backfield behind Asiata and the Vikings tried some misdirection, faking the handoff to Asiata to the right and pitching to Patterson to the left.
Later in the second quarter, the Vikings started with the ball at their own 13-yard line with 1:06 to play and drove to the Miami 1-yard line. Asiata was stuffed on first-and-goal and Bridgewater threw incomplete on second-and-goal on a play that started with 8 seconds left and took only 2 seconds off the game clock. But with 6 seconds remaining, Zimmer opted for the third-down field goal instead of trying another quick pass.
“I thought we had enough time to run another play, but I didn’t want to take the chance of getting a tipped ball, kind of what happened when (Teddy Bridgewater) checked it down to Asiata (on a third-quarter interception),” Zimmer said. “You know, you get a tipped ball … they were blitzing. We took one shot at them, we kicked the field goal.”
That gave the Vikings a 17-7 halftime lead after the Dolphins kneeled on the ball with 2 seconds remaining in the half following the kickoff.
ANOTHER LOSING SEASON
Numerous Vikings players last week talked about their new goal being to get to .500. That won’t happen after they lost their ninth game of the season.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bridgewater said. “We have high expectations around here. We set our goals pretty high around here, but we won’t be able to hit our goals. There are some positives heading in to the end of this season. Like I said, we’ve able to play much better than the way we started the season out. The chemistry. We’re just playing for one another now.”