At 6-4-1, the 2018 Minnesota Vikings have become an afterthought in the discussion about NFC leaders in the NFL. Is this the right place to be for Mike Zimmer and his embattled football team? Without a doubt, yes.
In 2014, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer took over a twice-cooked mess. He replaced former Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who had become head coach by graciously taking over for his inept and slightly infamous predecessor, Brad Childress.
Childress, Brett Favre aside, did everything wrong. One wonders how Frazier got the job, being an average coordinator, but perhaps the new owners (the Wilf family), wanted a nice guy who everybody liked, which describes Frazier well. Most likely they wanted a quick transition.
Under Frazier from 2011 to 2013, Minnesota went 3-13, 10-6, and 5-11, with most wins coming on the back of running back Adrian Peterson, and Vikings’ defenses were ranked 31st, 14th, and 32nd in Frazier’s three seasons
Goodbye, Mr. Nice Guy.
Zimmer was hired and started 2014 by immediately losing superstar Peterson on charges related to child abuse. But the head coach improved the defense remarkably and began developing a squad for the future with a green, but competitive, quarterback named Teddy Bridgewater, finishing the year 7-9.
In 2015, Zimmer led his team to an NFC North title and a spot in the playoffs. The Vikings had been whipped three times in the season, in the opener against the San Francisco 49ers, 20-3, and in Weeks 11 and 13–at home–by the Green Bay Packers, 30-13, and the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, 38-7.
Although they had rebounded from the opening loss to the 49ers by winning seven of their next eight games, after the later season defeats, Minnesota lost favor in the press and slipped between the cracks.
They weren’t really “underdogs’”, but with the Carolina Panthers and NFL MVP Cam Newton making all the headlines, Zimmer and his Vikings seemed like a story for another season.
But a funny thing happened in that national diminishment. On a short week, Minnesota traveled to Arizona to play a powerhouse Cardinals team. With several of their key defensive players missing, the Vikings gave the heavily-favored Cardinals everything they had, losing a great contest on a last-minute fumble.
Minnesota then won three-in-a-row to end the year, outscoring their opponents, 107-47.
In the Wild Card playoff game, the Vikings again were matched up against the Seahawks. In a frigid game at TCF Bank, Minnesota, who despite being completely unable to run the football with Peterson, almost completely shut down the prolific Seattle offense, and lined up to kick the game-winning field goal with just seconds left.
Cue the funeral dirge.
Skipping the 2016 season where everything that could go wrong went wrong (after that great 5-0 start!), we can examine the 2017 campaign that proves the value to losing the spotlight on a professional football team.
Or maybe make that—a Mike Zimmer football team?
Making quick work of it. After fans saw an explosive win against the New Orleans Saints to open the season at home, the Vikings went–in three weeks–from a Super Bowl poster team to finding themselves with a backup quarterback named Case Keenum, seeing their electrifying rookie running back in Dalvin Cook be lost for the year with an ACL injury, and a 2-2 record.
See ya. If indeed, the “North Remembers”, it’s got to be remembering something about a curse we didn’t get the memo on.
But. No doubt the “underdog” lifted his head out of the Minnesota snow at that time. Yeah, this team didn’t make it all the way, but going 11-1 the rest of the regular season and giving the world the play that will live in the same breath as the “Immaculate Reception” is pretty damn good.
Finished with that retrospective, we look over a Vikings team that is now 6-4-1 in 2018. They have been, at best, resilient, and at worst, disappointing.
And they’ll be on their way to New England to play the mighty Tom Brady and the Patriots in a few days. In the following week, Minnesota will travel across the country to face the a surging Seattle team.
Brady is 112-19 at home during his career, including the playoffs. Getting a win there is a combination of guessing the Riddle of the Sphinx and beating the Persians with less than 300 Spartans.
But if the national press can tell us that it doesn’t look good for Minnesota this week, then history tells us it should look all right for Zimmer and his boys, who obviously play better when the chips are down.
They’ll certainly need to.