Following Monday’s humbling 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t throwing the blame at his offensive line. He directed blame more at quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for not showing the poise that has been one of the trademarks of his young NFL career.
His linemen, however, were placing plenty of blame on themselves as the team returned to practice in preparation for their home opener against the Detroit Lions Sunday.
While Bridgewater didn’t have a great game, he was on the move for much of it, being sacked five times and narrowly avoiding three or four more thanks to his mobility. Guard Brandon Fusco said as much blame goes on the line as anyone, although sacks are often a team problem, not an individual one.
Like Zimmer, when he watched film of Monday’s game, it didn’t look like the Vikings offensive line he’s been working on.
“It wasn’t us,” Fusco said. “That’s not who we are. A guy here missing a play and then the next guy missing a play. We weren’t on the same page. Communication wasn’t there. We just played flat and that’s not the kind of physical play we’re known for.”
Fellow guard Mike Harris shared Fusco’s surprise. With all the positive momentum the line felt it had gained over the last three weeks without Phil Loadholt or John Sullivan, Harris felt the line let down the offense and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to take too many big hits, something it will have to rectify this week against the Lions.
“That isn’t the kind of game we’re expected to play,” Harris said. “You don’t feel good. I know we can do much better. We’ve got to take pride in keeping our quarterback clean.”
The failure from the viewing level was thorough and complete. But from the playing field it was even more frustrating.
Execution is always the key to success and, whether it was an individual failure or a missed assignment, the problems were rampant throughout the game, which made things even more frustrating for a makeshift line trying to lift what has the potential to be a high-octane offense.
“You just feel disappointed, because we knew we didn’t do our job and didn’t execute,” Fusco said. “We didn’t do the things the coaches were telling us to do. We need to motivate ourselves out there and be the ones that are being physical out there and playing our game. We just didn’t do that.”
Self-motivation would seem to be a theme for the offensive line this week as they seek some redemption from their sub-par performance Monday night.
Harris reiterated that for the success of the group, each player must re-dedicate himself to doing his own job well, as well as trying to work in cohesion with the players next to him. To improve the group, the sum of the parts needs to get better.
“We just have to play better as a group,” Harris said. “This wasn’t what we expected or wanted to see out of this group, but all of us are motivated to making ourselves better and helping the guy next to you be better. If we all do our part as individuals, the entire line will be better as a group.”
Fusco admitted that he was embarrassed by the Vikings performance, but said there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment on the group in the long term. They’re doing a lot of things right. It just didn’t show up Monday night. When it does, things will be very different, but, until then, they still have a rancid taste in their mouths.
“We have a good group of guys,” Fusco said. “We’re hard workers. We’ve just got to bounce back so we don’t have this feeling again. This is a terrible feeling.”