Now comes Phase 3 for Minnesota Vikings: Handling success

Mike Zimmer refuses to let up on the Minnesota Vikings, saying their lead in the NFC “means nothing.”

Adjustments, and the Minnesota Vikings, did it again.

No matter how they are getting it done, the Vikings are starting to stack wins – five of them in a row for those counting from their couches. And, now, the Vikings are alone in first place in the NFC North with head coach Mike Zimmer predictably and understandably throwing cold water on any far-too premature celebrations.

“I’m sure you’re all aware: We’re in first place. You know what that means? It means nothing,” Zimmer told his players in the locker room after a 30-14 win at the Oakland Raiders. “It’s not where you are now, it’s where we finish at the end of the year. Let’s keep our nose to the grindstone.”

Week after week, Zimmer has meticulously installed the chip on the shoulders of his players. First it was him citing that the Vikings hadn’t won a divisional road game in his tenure as head coach. They checked that off on Oct. 25 at the Detroit Lions.

Then it was that they hadn’t won at Chicago since 2007. Checked off a week later on Nov. 1.

And then Zimmer got creative, putting to work the Winter Park researchers, saying that the Vikings hadn’t won on the West Coast since 2007.

Whatever works, because Zimmer’s Vikings are now riding a five-game winning streak and not only in first place in the NFC North but basically in second place in the conference standings with a 7-2 record (Arizona technically holds the edge with one more conference game to date).

Yes, the Vikings have won ugly at times, but as the Raiders have preached for decades, “Just win, baby!” The Vikings did, against the Raiders in California, and now get to return home to TCF Bank Stadium where they are 4-0 this year.

It will be a monumental opportunity for Zimmer’s crew. Beat the Green Bay Packers, who are on a three-game losing streak and lost to the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field for the first time since 1991, and the Vikings will have a decided two-game edge in the division.

“People have exposed the formula on how to play them,” former NFL coach Tony Dungy said on NBC of the Packers. “Everyone’s playing them the same way – keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket and blanket those receivers.”

But, fitting for the upcoming game against the Packers, Teddy Bridgewater said Zimmer’s favorite line is, “Don’t take the cheese.”

The Vikings have moved onto the third phase of Zimmer’s four-step program to a championship – handling success. If they wanted to cite doubters in the first half of the season, those will be harder to find now. Count former Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison among those who now view the Vikings as the best team in the NFC North.

“It’s Minnesota, and quietly they have one of the best defenses in the league,” Harrison said on NBC. “This is a defense that can match up with Green Bay.”

And keeping the Packers offense off the field as much as possible. The Vikings, with Adrian Peterson leading the league by more than 200 yards with 961 rushing yards, have the top-ranked rushing attack. They also have the No. 1 defense in points allowed.

They’ve won mainly because of those two components, and with special teams stepping up at key junctures.

“It’s time to unleash the Flash,” Cordarrelle Patterson said in a pregame video on the team’s web site. “Been 10 weeks, I’ve been letting everybody down. I got something for ya’ll today.”

Within a couple hours, he did. Patterson took a kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown that gave the Vikings the lead back in Oakland and they never surrendered it again with a second-half shutout.

Yet, Zimmer will keep working his crew until they have finished all four phases of his program to winning a championship.

“I’m going to keep grinding you; I’m going to keep pushing you because I know what this team can do,” Zimmer told his players after Sunday’s win. “I’m going to keep pushing you.”

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