Disappointed Vikings determined to stay true to identity
Published 10:21 am Tuesday, November 24, 2015
EDEN PRAIRIE — The Minnesota Vikings moved on from the loss to rival Green Bay, determined to isolate this defeat.
For all the facets of their performance against the Packers that were substandard in the national spotlight, the Vikings emerged with the same type of confident, defiant attitude they’ve been using to their advantage all season.
“I’m disappointed in our performance, but I’m not discouraged about our future,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I still believe in this football team, and I believe in everything about us.”
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The last time the Vikings lost decisively after a lot of external buildup was on Sept. 14, the opener at San Francisco. Except for the hit on their overall and intraconference record, that humbling 20-3 defeat did plenty of good by the way it galvanized the players after the embarrassment on national television.
There was an admission from the Vikings on Monday that, again, they tried at times to overdo certain plays with the importance of this game as an unavoidable backdrop.
“You’ve got to learn how to handle your emotions in big-game situations. You have to be able to play, basically, the way you’ve played all season. You can’t change anything. You can’t do too much or do less. You’ve got to stay true to who you are,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “I think we got away from ourselves a little bit yesterday.”
One example was the handful of times Aaron Rodgers rolled out and completed a third-down throw past the marker or in the end zone. One of the keys to success in Zimmer’s scheme is keeping the quarterback in the pocket with disciplined lanes for the pass rushers, resisting temptation to chase a sack at the expense of giving the offense an opening.
“I think guys were in a mindset of trying to do extra, instead of making the plays that’s there for you,” cornerback Terence Newman said.
The Vikings committed more penalties than usual, too. Newman’s 50-yard pass interference penalty led to a touchdown for the Packers near the end of the second quarter. There were plenty of mistakes, though, that hardly seemed attributable to big-game anxiety or atmosphere. The total of bad punts, leaky pass blocking and missed tackles was simply more prevalent for the Vikings than it has been since the San Francisco game. Against a quality opponent like the Packers they weren’t able to overcome them.
“Obviously we’d like to win, but in the grand scheme of things it’s one game,” Barr said.
Zimmer has used story lines perpetuated in the media to motivate his players several times this year, like the seven-game losing streak in Chicago that was stopped on Nov. 1.
He has seemed agitated, too, by some of the outside analysis. In his post-game news conference Sunday, he sarcastically cheered Teddy Bridgewater’s total of 296 yards passing. That came in reaction to recent questions he’s fielded about Bridgewater’s statistics and suggestions that the second-year quarterback will be stuck in that category often called “game managers” rather than an elite player bound for multiple Pro Bowls.
On Monday, Zimmer referenced media commentary again in a plea for the Vikings to maintain their identity as a defensively dominant, run-oriented squad that excels on special teams.
“We’re not winning by enough or we’re not doing this enough. Just be who we are. That’s OK with me,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings realized they relinquished the NFC North lead in losing to the Packers, but they’re still tied for first place with six games to go, including the rematch in Green Bay on Jan. 3 in the season finale. Win all of them, and the division title would be theirs.
“Knowing we have another shot to play them again and everything we want still within reach, I think the mood is better obviously than it was yesterday,” Barr said. “Guys are smiling a little bit today, so we’ll be all right.”