The Minnesota Vikings, thoroughly beaten and unquestionably embarrassed in their season opener, were expecting the worst from coach Mike Zimmer when they gathered two days later to begin preparation for the next game.
Oh, Zimmer was upset. The team that lost 20-3 to San Francisco in front of a national television audience, he said shortly after that humiliation, was not one that he recognized. His sharp, blunt criticism had no bounds anywhere on the roster last week.
Zimmer decided not to dwell on the performance, though. He hardly harped on the mistakes at all. The video clips that were far more of a blooper reel than a highlight film were barely shown. The team, Zimmer believed, simply needed to move on.
“I knew if it lingered on, that going 0-2 to start the season and losing a division game at home would not be a good thing,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings responded precisely the way he hoped, with a 26-16 victory over Detroit. Just about every facet of the team, almost every player, was better against the Lions than six days before.
The clunker on kickoff weekend remained a mystery, though Zimmer sounded settled on an explanation through insight from mentor and former boss Bill Parcells, about public perception that built over the summer of the Vikings being a team on the rise in the NFC and the 49ers being in steep decline.
“Hey, Mike,’“ Parcells told Zimmer in their conversation earlier this week, “it’s human nature.”
Human nature, too, would be to feel satisfied with this bounce-back game, but that’s the way to a losing record in this league.
“We can’t take the cheese this week either because people will be saying nice things about us this week,” Zimmer said. “We have to make sure that we continue to work the way we work, study the way we study and go out and practice.”
The Vikings host San Diego this Sunday.
“It’s a good week to be demanding,” Zimmer said. “It’s a good week to be demanding.”
Barely into his second season in Minnesota, Zimmer has displayed a knack for connecting with the players in a tough-love type of way. The Vikings finished only 7-9 in his first year, but there were signs of progress.
“You know the players are going to go as their coach goes. I think it’s just the type of players we have on the team, though, even more so than coach Zimmer,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said.
“There are a lot of coaches who can speak one thing, and the players still do another thing. I think we have a lot of guys who, at each position, are going to set the tone and be like, ‘No, we’re going to kind of keep it level.’“
Plenty of improvements must be made for the Vikings to keep pace with NFC North ruler Green Bay. Despite his 192 total yards, Adrian Peterson fumbled three times against Detroit.
The Vikings had 10 penalties in that game. Blair Walsh made two short field goals but missed an extra point, continuing his struggles of the past year.
The coach’s work, of course, has only begun.
“Zim’s a guy who never sugarcoats anything. He is always 100 percent truthful. That’s what he’s given us,” safety Harrison Smith said.
“He expects us to correct things when they’re wrong and when we’re doing things right, he expects us to keep doing it right. We just follow what he’s coaching us to do and all the coaches are coaching us to do. It’s not magic. We just have a lot of trust.”