Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has preached in the past that his team still needs to learn how to handle success in the NFL. It is one thing to win games when you are the underdog and people are expecting you to lose. It’s a whole different thing when you have been winning games and people start to expect more from you.
The Vikings were riding a five-game winning streak coming into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. They had a 7-2 record, were undefeated at home, undefeated in the NFC North and had sole possession of first place in the division. Things were going good for the Vikings, but that seemed to quickly change once the Packers arrived at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Packers are a team that has proven time and time again that they know how to manage expectations set on them, and even though they were on a three-game losing streak they wanted to prove they were still the team to beat in the NFC North.
“I think this was just one of those days where when you shoot yourself in the foot so many times against a quality football team that lost three games in a row, they’re playing with their backs against the wall,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said of Sunday’s 30-13 loss. “They’re very accustomed to winning and probably not very accustomed to losing three games in a row and they came and played like it tonight.”
The Packers are at a place where the Vikings hope to get to one day. They have shown that they have the ability to sustain success year in and year out, where the Vikings are currently a young team that appears to be heading in the right direction.
They have yet to really prove anything in the two years that Zimmer has been in Minnesota and Sunday’s loss did not help prove they are where they want to get. Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway has been with the team for 10 seasons and has seen many ups and downs throughout the years.
He realizes that the Vikings are moving in a positive direction but there are still some things they need to learn. This was really the first time most of these Vikings have been in a situation where they are fighting for first place in the division, but this experience should only help the young team in the long run.
“I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this since 2012, probably under this regime this is the first time,” he said. “It’s a young football team; we’ll learn from it. We’ll take the stuff that happened today and just understand that, really, the mantra is going to be accurate to we have to worry about the things that we do and focus on our assignments and credit (the Packers) for making the plays.”
It is not just the young players that need to work on handling the type of success that the Vikings have been having this season, but the entire team. Minnesota’s coaches have had a lot of experience in the NFL, but this is still just their second season working with one another. Sustained success hasn’t arrived yet.
“I think it’s from the top to the bottom,” said running back Adrian Peterson. “I think it’s from the coaches on both sides and then the players as well. No matter what position we were in, we got our calls and didn’t execute on all the plays and it came back to hurt us. But it’s the coaches’ job to put us in the best position as well.”
The Vikings have struggled this season when playing against the top teams in the NFL on a national spotlight. They lost to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night in Week 1, they lost to the Denver Broncos during America’s Game of the Week a month later, and now they lost to the Packers in a game that was moved to the late afternoon for more television exposure.
These are the types of games that the Vikings will need to win if they hope to take the next step in their development and the players know that.
“It’s huge for us. If we want to get over the hump and if we want to be champions of the NFC North, that’s who we have to be,” Rudolph said. “(The Packers) have taken our division the last four years, and everyone knows that the division goes through there. The bottom line is that we still have six games left, we’re both 7-3, and we’ll have an opportunity to go there.”
There is still a lot of football left to play this season and the Vikings’ remaining schedule is one of the toughest in the NFL. There are going to be some tough games they will be forced to win and they are hoping they can take the experience they gained in Sunday’s loss and use it to help them in the future.
“We just have to take a step back and look and see what we did wrong and just improve,” Peterson said.