First it was winning on the road. Since losing their first two road games of the season, Vikings are 4-1.
Then it was winning divisional games. The Vikings are 4-1 in those this year.
Then it was winning in prime time. The Vikings vanquished that Sunday night with a 40-17 blowout win over the New York Giants.
Zimmer and his Vikings will get another chance at a Sunday night game when the NFL and NBC announced in the third quarter of the Giants game that the Vikings and Green Bay Packers game would be “flexed” to Sunday night.
“Rick (Spielman, Vikings general manager) said to me, ‘You know you’ve been flexed.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, it’s hard to miss the thing on both ends of the scoreboard they’re playing the Sunday Night Football thing,’” Zimmer said after his win against the Giants. “I don’t know, we can’t win on prime time, so we just keep going.”
A faint smirk crossed Zimmer’s face. They had just won in prime time and he knew it. They will get another prime-time opportunity this Sunday night.
But the reality is that the Packers have provided the biggest stumbling block for the Vikings. So, let’s just say it and let Zimmer ruminate on the words: The Vikings can’t beat the Packers. More accurately, however, is saying they haven’t beat them often in recent years. The last win against them came at the end of the 2012 season. Since then, the Vikings are 0-5-1 in their three meetings, including the 2012 wild card game the week after the Vikings beat Green Bay in the regular-season finale.
Still, tight end Kyle Rudolph believes the Vikings are primed to break that six-game winless streak.
“Absolutely. We’ve got to play our game. I think we can beat anyone on any Sunday when we play our game,” he said. “When you play a good team, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot. You can’t put yourself behind the sticks, you can’t turn the ball over. We’re going to go into a hostile environment there in Lambeau. We’ll get their best shot, but I do think our best shot is good enough if we play well.”
The Packers won the last meeting, 30-13, on Nov. 22 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota, but the Vikings trailed only 19-13 late in the third quarter before Green Bay scored 11 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Teddy Bridgewater threw for 296 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 100.7 passer rating. Aaron Rodgers was only 16 of 34 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for an 86.9 rating. But the Vikings struggled to stop running back Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 100 yards while Adrian Peterson never got going for Minnesota, rushing for only 45 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
“They got after us pretty good and we didn’t make the plays we needed to win,” Zimmer said. “They’re an excellent football team, excellent organization, they’ve got a terrific quarterback. They played good defensively that night against us. We’ll just see.”
Rodgers hasn’t had a 100 passer rating since October, and his last two games he hasn’t had a rating above 70 or passes for more than 205 yards. He was sacked eight times against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, but Zimmer is still singing his praises.
“The guy still looks like a surgeon to me when he throws the ball,” Zimmer said. “He’s accurate and scrambles around.”
The bigger issue for the Vikings in that November meeting was self-inflicted mistakes, not Rodgers’ performance. Minnesota committed eight penalties for a season-high 110 yards and lost the only fumble of the game.
“We can’t beat ourselves,” Bridgewater said of facing the Packers again. “When you’re playing a good team and a future Hall of Fame quarterback, you can’t give them more opportunities because they’re going to take advantage.”
When they squared off in November, the Packers were coming off a three-game losing streak. This time, they are coming off a 38-8 humiliation in Arizona.
“We can’t pay any attention to what the Packers are doing and how they’ve been playing,” Bridgewater said. “We have to continue to focus on ourselves. Coach Zimmer said something to us I think early in the week and he said, ‘Once we get in the playoffs, the only team that can beat the Vikings is the Vikings,’ and we don’t want to beat ourselves. We know that we have a big-time game coming up next week, but we don’t want to make the game bigger than what it is, so the guys are going to come to work tomorrow with their hard hats on with the same focus and intensity and approach this week as if there’s something on the line.”
The Packers haven’t beaten a winning team in more than a month. One problem: That win came against the Vikings.
The last time the Vikings beat a winning team was the next week when they dismantled the Atlanta Falcons.
For Bridgewater, Sunday night will mark his first game at Lambeau Field. Last year when the Vikings traveled to Green Bay, Bridgewater was coming off his first NFL start and was inactive for the first time with an injury. Christian Ponder was making his last NFL start, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 45.8 passer rating and taking six sacks in a 42-10 drubbing.
“I’m not big on the history and things like that or the atmosphere,” Bridgewater said of his upcoming first start at Lambeau Field. “I’m just going out there with the mindset that we want to win a football game. We’re going to be on prime time again and there’s a lot at stake. We’re going to approach this game with the same mindset, same intensity, same focus that we had (against the Giants).”
And Zimmer might bring along his good-luck charm, his mother.
“I don’t know, might have to bring her,” he said.
At this point, Zimmer will do whatever is necessary to turn around a 1-10-1 record in the last 12 games against Green Bay. The last three of those are credited to his record.