Up until last Thursday, the 2015 Minnesota Vikings had always been able to follow a loss with at least one win. However, as the importance of each win increases with the playoffs in sight, that wasn’t the case when the Vikings dropped their second loss in a row on Thursday night.
Perhaps the extended weekend away will help, as head coach Mike Zimmer gave the players Friday through Monday off before returning to practice on Tuesday. But time away or not, Zimmer stressed the importance of keeping his Vikings ship even-keeled and focused, something his mentor Bill Parcells stressed with his teams.
Zimmer said he has always admired those kinds of teams.
“You kind of see them based on who they are and the teams that are winning. You see how they bounce back from losses. You see how they focus on the job at hand and preparation and things like that,” Zimmer said. “(Bill) Parcells always said he didn’t want to have a yo-yo football team – up one week and down the next. He wanted the same guys all the time.”
Zimmer believes he has that with his generally young team this year, but with three games remaining and coming off back-to-back losses, “it’s time to get back on track.”
The Vikings came close to beating the Arizona Cardinals, who have lost only two games this year, on Thursday night. Players saw some positives emerge from that game, but even as they admitted that, they made sure to add the postlude: no moral victories.
“I hate to use this, but I think the way we came out and played last week lets us know that we’re able to play with good, quality football teams,” veteran cornerback Terence Newman said. “We just didn’t get it done. Moving forward we know we’ve got to play with the same emotion, same attitude, same chip on our shoulder and seal the deal, not make the mistakes that we made.”
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said he sat at his locker with his pads still on for about 20 minutes after fumbling away the Vikings’ chance to tie the game with less than 10 seconds to play. He broke down the play again on Wednesday, seven days later, several times after being asked about it, but finally pointed to shifting the focus to the Chicago Bears game on Sunday.
That’s just as Zimmer would want.
“This is a good bunch of guys, they’re good kids, they care and I think that’s probably the biggest thing,” Zimmer said. “These guys care and they’re good people.”
Zimmer wants players that can digest a win or a loss one week and move on quickly to the next opponent. He searches for that type of attitude when it comes to acquiring and researching players.
“It’s a combination of things. You talk to a lot of their coaches – what kind of competitor is the guy, how does he handle adversity, how smart is he, is he moody on the practice field, does he pay attention in meetings?” Zimmer said. “There’s a big combination of things that helps figure it out. How does he react when you get after him? How is the best way to coach this guy? Does he put the team first? Was he all about stats?”
At times, the Vikings have played the kind of football Zimmer believes is necessary for this version to win – minimize the penalties and turnovers, run the ball well, pass it efficiently and play stout defense.
At times, they have. In other cases, penalties have put a team that can’t afford many of them in bad spots.
“I’ve always said I want whoever we’re playing that week to say, ‘They’re a well-coached football team that plays real hard. They don’t beat themselves and when we play them this day we’re going to have to play really, really good to beat them,’” Zimmer said. “That’s really what I try to get this team to be like. Sometimes we’re like that and sometimes we make mistakes, like every team does, but I think overall we typically play that way.”