Almost from the day Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer arrived in early 2014, he has had something of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to erasing the negativity of previous coaching regimes and getting his team into position where they’re no longer viewed as underdogs.
Welcome to prosperity, Zim.
The Vikings were technically in first place in the NFC North heading into Sunday’s game at Oakland – their 3-0 division record was already better than Green Bay’s and, since they haven’t played yet, the Vikings had the edge coming into Sunday’s games. But with a Vikings win at Oakland and a Packers home loss to hapless Detroit, the Vikings are one game clear of Green Bay, which fell to 6-3 with its third straight loss.
The gravity of Sunday’s game can’t be overemphasized. A victory for the Vikings would give them a stranglehold on the division. A win could give them a two-game lead over the Packers with a win in hand. What that means is that, given a Vikings win, they not only would be two games ahead of the Packers, they would have a vice grip on the divisional tie-breakers.
A win over Green Bay would make the Vikings 4-0 in the division. Even if the Packers would win their rematch at Lambeau Field in Week 17, all the Vikings would need to do is beat Chicago at home in December and it would render the tie-breakers of the Jan. 3 regular season finale moot. All ties would go to the Vikings.
There has been a bit of reserved optimism when it has come to the 2015 Vikings. Many have waited for the other shoe to drop, but the recurring themes are recurring for a reason.
The Vikings are closing out games defensively and offensively.
They haven’t allowed a team to score more than two touchdowns against them all season of any form – offensive TDs, pick-six interceptions or fumble recoveries from a defense or punt/kickoff returns from the special teams. Through nine games, there are only 17 touchdowns allowed – two in eight games and one in the other.
The return of Adrian Peterson has been critical. He’s leading the NFL in rushing. He’s just 39 yards short of hitting 1,000 yards for the seventh time in his career. His 961 yards is 227 yards more than the next highest total (Chris Johnson, 734). He has been the security blanket for the Vikings, averaging 22 carries a game – a number that just keeps growing as the season goes on.
Peterson passed Warrick Dunn for career rushing yards. Peterson has 11,151 yards, Dunn had 10,967. On his third carry of the game, Dunn was passed. By the time Peterson slowed down and toe-dragged into the end zone with an 80-yard touchdown run, Dunn was truly done – 192 yards into the rearview mirror.
This Sunday could be one of pivotal importance for Peterson, because the names he will start to surpass will be Hall of Famers and those who are, at a minimum, in the Hall of Really Good.
With 78 yards against Green Bay Sunday, he will enter the top 20, surpassing O.J. Simpson, who played 11 NFL seasons. With 83 yards, he passes Corey Dillon into 19th place. Next in line is John Riggins at 11,352 yards, but that will likely have to wait until after Thanksgiving for another two-man checker jump of Riggins and Steven Jackson (11,388).
In games in which field position has often been critical, the special teams can’t be underestimated. Blair Walsh made 17 straight field goals before hitting a bump in the road at Oakland. Return men Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels have both taken a kick back for a touchdown – both at critical times of games that shifted the momentum in a pendulum style. The special teams has held up its end.
Zimmer keeps finding a way to convince his players that it is them against the world. He keeps chiding them not to buy into the positivity that the local media has objectively observed since OTAs that, if the chips fall the right way, this could be a very good team.
The team is staying humble and apparently unconcerned about the growing media attention they’re receiving. The media throng asking ridiculous questions is getting more ridiculous with each week.
Packers Week may be the truest test of that.
The Vikings have proved a lot this season. Unfortunately, the team isn’t sharing their joy as much with the locals as they should. Their noses are to the grindstone and the local media, it would appear, is being viewed as a weekly opponent. Tell us we can’t do something and we’ll do it.
Beat the Packers and get ready for a big dose of Minnesota Nice because the bandwagon jumpers will be like a Black Friday mob at that point.
Zim is running out of motivational speeches about what the Vikings allegedly can’t do. It may be time to flip the script and acknowledge what they’ve done and what is possible.