The Minnesota Vikings reached a low point in their season from Week 11 to Week 13. They went 1-2 in those three games and even their win over the Atlanta Falcons was not all that impressive with heavy reliance on Adrian Peterson and no touchdowns from Teddy Bridgewater.
Their two losses in that three-game span came to the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. Two very good teams, but the Vikings looked overwhelmed in both of those games and not like a team that was heading to the playoffs.
After losing to the Seahawks in Week 13, the Vikings had to prepare to go up against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. That short week meant that they weren’t going to be able to get back multiple injured players on time, including three of their best defenders in Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr.
By all accounts, it seemed as though the Vikings were heading straight into a bloodbath against the No. 1 offense in the NFL and a very good defense. But something seemed to change in the Vikings that night on national television as they only lost by three points and they had a chance to tie the game at the end of the fourth quarter before the Cardinals sacked Bridgewater and created a game-ending turnover.
It was a heartbreaking way to end a hard-fought game in which not many people believed the Vikings even had a chance, but their performance there seemed to ignite something in the team. Since then, they have beaten the Chicago Bears 38-17 and the New York Giants 49-17.
“I think that we’ve learned the kind of mentality that we have to have these last four weeks,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “I think after we got beat by Seattle, maybe and the Green Bay game, I think the mentality of our team has changed a little bit and for the better in my opinion. I keep talking to them about it: ‘This is the type of mentality that we have to have going forward.’ And really the Arizona game, I think we had the right mentality. Going forward from that game on, we’ve played with the mentality that I like to play with.”
When Zimmer was asked about his comment a little later, he said he didn’t want to get into what he meant by a new mentality. He didn’t want to talk about what changed or what it is he wants his team to be like. All he said to it was, “They probably know,” meaning the players.
Even if Zimmer has been happy with the way his team has been performing in recent weeks, there are still plenty of things he wants them to clean up on. The biggest seems to be continuing to start out fast on offense. Slow starts have plagued the Vikings offense this season – the first quarter is their lowest scoring quarter – and while they have done better in recent weeks they once again started out slow against the Giants before breaking things open in the second half.
“You know, I didn’t think we played great offensively in the first half,” Zimmer said after Sunday’s game. “They obviously had a lot of guys up there and things, we got a lot of 2-yard runs. I told Norv (Turner), I said, ‘Can we break one of these in here?’ And then Adrian about that same time broke it and so it was good. You know, usually when they keep keeping all of those people in there against the run you have a chance to pop some long runs and it took a long time before we were able to get a couple of them.”
As the Vikings head into the final week of the season that will see them in competition for the NFC North title against the Packers, Zimmer cannot help but be happy with where his team is. They finished with a 7-9 record last season when he took over as head coach and now all his players have bought into what he has been teaching and they have sealed up a spot in the playoffs.
Zimmer knows that the way his team has played these last few weeks has done a lot for their confidence and is a big reason for the change in mentality. They believe that they can win any game they are in, and he believes that’s half the battle.
“Well, we’ve played good the last few weeks,” he said. “I think we’re playing with confidence right now. I think our guys feel good about the things we’re doing. I think they believe, and half of the battle is believing.”