Mike Zimmer was clearly irritated by talk of his Minnesota Vikings’ struggles to win on the road, but facts were facts. The Vikings’ road struggles clearly predated Zimmer, but the results weren’t getting much better under him, even if the competitiveness was.
Since he took over as head coach in 2014, the Vikings were 2-5 in NFC North games and 2-8 in road games. He used those facts as talking points to the team before Sunday’s 28-19 divisional win on the road against the Detroit Lions.
“He showed us in the team meeting room some of the reasons we lost the game last year,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “I think we did a good job responding this year.”
Zimmer has taken several opportunities to point out to the team their deficiencies, and Saturday night he did the same, talking to the team about all that went wrong in last year’s Week 15 loss at Detroit.
Here is a then-and-now look at the differences in performance for the Vikings at Detroit:
WALSH FOR FIVE
2014: The Vikings fell 16-14 after Blair Walsh went 0-for-3 on field goals, pushing wide right a 53-yard attempt, having a 26-yard attempt blocked and coming up short on 68-yard, game-winning attempt as time expired. That’s nine potential points lost in a two-point loss.
2015: Walsh missed an extra point (moved back to a 33-yard attempt this year) but tied a career high with five made field goals, including two beyond 50 yards. He was good from 37, 53, 51, 35 and 22 yards, making it 15 points on field goals in a nine-point win.
“It was big. Last year we missed three kicks here so we lost nine points and we lost by (two). I talked to him last night and talked to the team last night and he made the kicks and he made five today so that’s 15 points and we won by nine,” Zimmer said.
2014: Last year on Dec. 14, the Vikings didn’t get any sacks of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, as he completed 17 of 28 passes for 153 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and an 87.4 rating. Teddy Bridgewater took four sacks while completing 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards and one touchdown, but also threw two interceptions.
2015: Once again, Bridgewater took four sacks and completed 25 of 35 passes, but he threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. Although he missed 10 throws in each game and threw for 315 (last year) and 316 yards (this year), his rating jumped from 84.9 last year at Detroit to 118.3 this year. But just as big a factor was the defensive line’s ability to get Stafford this year. He was sacked seven times for 59 yards and clearly frustrated with his protection and his inability to stay upright consistently against the Vikings for a second straight outing against them in 2015.
“We had the one turnover, but he did a nice job with the ball,” Zimmer said of Bridgewater. “The thing that probably impressed me the most with him today is he got rocked a couple times. I wasn’t sure if was going to be able to finish. He got up. He made some great throws.”
2014: In addition to Bridgewater’s two interceptions last year, he fumbled the ball once last year in Detroit but Mike Harris covered it. Still, because of Bridgewater’s two interceptions the Vikings lost the turnover battle 2-0 in last year’s matchup at Detroit, and the Lions scored 10 of their 16 points on those interceptions.
2015: This year, Bridgewater was credited with two fumbles, but the one that was lost was on a handoff that looked like it was properly placed on Adrian Peterson but never secured. That turned into the last points the Lions would score themselves – Jeff Locke intentionally ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety late in the game – to take a 17-6 lead.
“We talked about earlier in the week about protecting the football,” Bridgewater said. “… You watch us today and I think we did a great job of not making the same mistakes twice. The guys answered Coach Zimmer’s challenge.”
The win was so big to the team that Bridgewater gave a game ball to Zimmer.
“I’m excited for Coach Zimmer getting his first divisional win on the road and we knew coming into this game that it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Bridgewater. “… The difference between being 4-2 and being 3-3, we know how important that was.”
Zimmer knew what needed to happen to accomplish that.
“We talked all week long about the reasons why we lost the game here last year,” Zimmer said. “I think we fixed all those situations today. It has nothing to do with where you play; it’s how you play. Like I’ve been saying all along, they said that you can’t have a better record in temporary stadiums. They say you can’t do this, you can’t do this. It’s all about how you play, not really where you play.”
The Vikings corrected their miscues from last year’s performance in Detroit and it resulted in a rare road win.