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Vikings reaching for answers to solve skid

MINNEAPOLIS -- In 2003, the Vikings collapsed. They don't want that to happen again. Since 1990, only five NFL teams have started 5-0 or better and not made the playoffs. They were Atlanta in 2015, Denver and the New York Giants in 2009, New Orle...

Nov 13, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stands on the sidelines against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stands on the sidelines against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - In 2003, the Vikings collapsed. They don't want that to happen again.

Since 1990, only five NFL teams have started 5-0 or better and not made the playoffs. They were Atlanta in 2015, Denver and the New York Giants in 2009, New Orleans in 1993 and Minnesota in 2003, which began 6-0 and stumbled to a 9-7 mark.

The Vikings this season won their first five games before having dropped their past four. If the playoffs started now, they wouldn't get an invitation.

"Wow, it's crazy,'' cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Monday. "If you told me we were going to lose four in a row, I would have told you there's no way this team can lose four in a row. But it's happened. Now, we got to fight our way out of it.''

Munnerlyn didn't play in the latest defeat, a 26-20 setback Sunday at Washington, because of a sprained ankle. He watched on television at home and said he was miserable.

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The Vikings led 20-14 at halftime but didn't score again. Now, Mike Zimmer has his first four-game losing streak since becoming Minnesota's coach in 2014.

"This team is used to winning, so they don't like it,'' Zimmer said. "They're frustrated by it, I'm frustrated by it. But the bottom line is we need to win football games. ... My dad (the late Bill Zimmer) told me a long time ago, 'If you make it through the downs, the ups will take care of itself.'"

With Minnesota preparing to face Arizona on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Zimmer is seeking to correct problems. As usual, a big one involves the running game.

The Vikings gained just 47 yards on 21 carries against the Redskins. They converted just one of three third-and-1 opportunities on runs and had two carries by Matt Asiata from the Washington 1 for no gain before Asiata did plunge in for a second-quarter touchdown.

Minnesota is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, on pace to the lowest in the NFL since the 1953 New York Giants averaged 2.6. The last team to average less than 3 per attempt was the 1994 New England Patriots at 2.8.

The Patriots made the playoffs that season at 10-6 with Bill Parcells as coach. Parcells is Zimmer's mentor, and the Minnesota coach said the two talked Monday, but he wouldn't provide details.

"I went back in the last four ballgames and offensively we're 5 out of 13 in third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 and defensively we're 0 of 4," Zimmer said. "So, consequently, we have not been able to get off the field defensively in some of these situations and offensively we haven't been able to sustain drives. So that is going to be (a) big emphasis this week.''

Minnesota's defense hasn't looked the same as it did during the 5-0 start. Cornerback Terence Newman said one reason is the Vikings, after getting 19 sacks and 12 turnovers while undefeated, might be trying too hard to make big plays.

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"Often times, when you have a slump, guys try to make some plays, and that's when things really go bad,'' Newman said. "We had some games where we got a bunch of takeaways, we got a bunch of sacks and a bunch of stops and then the guys start trying to do that and keep doing that, and you start to press.''

Zimmer said it isn't just players pressing during the losing streak. He said he tried to do much Sunday.

"Instead of allowing guys to make plays, you try to make plays for them," Zimmer said. "We just need to settle down."

The Vikings weren't able to do that in 2003. After their 6-0 start, they lost four straight and eventually were knocked out of the playoffs on the final day of the season with an 18-17 loss at Arizona.

The four-game skid has dropped Minnesota into a tie for Detroit (5-4) for first in the NFC North. The Lions, though, hold the tiebreaker, which is why they're in position for make the playoffs and the Vikings aren't.

"I don't think anybody on this team is really worried about the (playoff) rankings now,'' said wide receiver Adam Thielen. "We're worried about Arizona right now and correcting things. If we start looking at it like we were 5-0 and now we're 5-4, then bad things can creep into your head."

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