NFL: Vikings ponder direction during bye
The Minnesota Vikings' bye week comes at a time when coach Mike Zimmer is trying to lead his team down the narrow path between encouragement and satisfaction.
The Minnesota Vikings’ bye week comes at a time when coach Mike Zimmer is trying to lead his team down the narrow path between encouragement and satisfaction.
He wants them to be encouraged by a 2-2 start and Sunday’s hard-fought 23-20 road loss to a Broncos team that’s 24-2 at home in the regular season since adding Peyton Manning.
But he’s careful not to laud the players too much for coming close and still failing.
“There will never be moral victories around here,” Zimmer said this week.
That’s good because it’s time the Vikings hit the gas on turning this thing around. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 2009 season and are just 1-3 in the postseason during the Adrian Peterson era that began in 2007.
The Vikings are relatively healthy at the bye, although they will play several more games with an offensive line that’s missing two starters. Right tackle Phil Loadholt (Achilles’ tendon) was lost for the year in the preseason, while center John Sullivan (back) is on injured reserve but can return as early as Week 9.
The bye could enable starters Charles Johnson (rib) and Andrew Sendejo (knee) to return from injuries that sidelined them against the Broncos. Sendejo isn’t necessarily the answer at strong safety - the weakest spot on the defense - but he has proven to be better than Robert Blanton, one of the players whose poor execution resulted in Denver running back Ronnie Hillman turning a simple toss sweep into a 72-yard touchdown run.
At 2-2, the Vikings are two games behind the Packers in the NFC North. Their biggest regret is how out of character they were in the 20-3 season-opening loss at San Francisco. Since that game, the 49ers have gone 0-3 while being outscored 107-28.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had the worst performance of a young career that now includes 16 games. He lacked poise and accuracy, his two greatest strengths.
But the Vikings are encouraged that he regained those strengths immediately during a two-game winning streak and held on to them fairly well while being sacked seven times in Denver.
“I think we laid a solid foundation over the first four games of the season,” Bridgewater said. “We also know that we have a lot of work to continue to do. We’ll get some guys healthy and take advantage of this bye week. It’s not a bad position to be, .500. ... We’d love to be 3-1 or 4-0 right now, but we just want to learn from these first four games and continue to build off them.”
The Vikings return home after the bye to play the Chiefs. Then they hit the road to Detroit for a game against a Lions team they’ve already beaten by 10 points.
But at some point, the Vikings will need to win a big road game. Under Zimmer, the Vikings are 7-3 at home, but 2-8 on the road.
“We have to execute better (on the road),” Zimmer said. “Sometimes with this team, it seems like when we get in big games everyone wants to make a play instead of, ‘Hey, look here, this is my job. I’m going to do my job.’ So that’s just something I’m going to have to continue to figure out.
“But it’s not like they spit the bit. They want to do good. They want to impress. They want to be with all the elite teams in the league. I think every time we get in these situations and we’re able to teach and we’re able to coach and we’re able to fight back like we did in that ballgame (Sunday), I think these are all great learning experiences with a young football team. And at some point in time, we’re going to get over the hump.”