Vikings remain confident, but know improvements must be made
EDEN PRAIRIE — The Minnesota Vikings showed plenty of resilience and potential during their three-point defeat at Denver. There are more parts of this team trending in a positive direction than negative.
There’s still a lot to fix. There’s still a hurdle to clear.
"It seems like when we get in big games, everyone wants to make a play instead of just, ‘Hey, look here: This is my job. I’m going to do my job. I’m going to do this,’" coach Mike Zimmer said. "So it’s actually something that I’m going to have to continue to figure out. It’s not like they spit the bit. They want to do good. They want to impress. They want to be with all of the elite teams in the league."
Losing 23-20 to the unbeaten Broncos on Sunday was a setback in the standings, but it underscored the widespread belief Vikings (2-2) are an up-and-coming team and a legitimate playoff contender in Zimmer’s second season.
"These are all great learning experiences with a young football team, and at some point in time," Zimmer said, pausing briefly, "we’re going to get over the hump."
What would that look like? Well, winning a game on the road against a quality opponent.
Denver qualified as such. So will Atlanta, Arizona and Green Bay during the second half of the schedule, given the track those teams are on. This struggle predates Zimmer, but the Vikings are a woeful 2-16-1 over their last 19 games on the road, starting with the playoff loss at Green Bay following the 2012 season.
That’s why they weren’t exactly brimming with self-congratulations entering their bye week.
"It’s average," safety Harrison Smith said, reflecting on the first quarter, "just as bad as it is good."
The offensive line is iffy, having allowed 12 sacks in the two losses. Blair Walsh hasn’t been able to stop his slide, failing on another high-percentage field goal Sunday. The defense, so stiff against the run the previous two weeks, let Ronnie Hillman race around left end and up the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown right after Walsh’s miss.
"We were a couple plays away," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "This is one of those games that you have to be perfect. We know that we’re going to be in another game like this at some point this year, and we’re going to make sure that we come out on top."
There was a palpable sense of optimism surrounding the performance, though.
Bridgewater outplayed Peyton Manning, who was intercepted by Smith and Anthony Barr. The Vikings converted six of 16 third downs against the stingiest defense in the league in that category (not to mention several others) and were successful on both fourth-down plays, too.
"We didn’t get the win, but I’m going to say it 1,000 times: ‘I’m really proud of my teammates,’" said Mike Wallace, one of three wide receivers who had six or more catches and 70-plus yards. Wallace added: "If we keep fighting like that, we’ll get a lot of wins on the road."
Even defensive end Everson Griffen, who was the team’s loudest critic after an embarrassing 20-3 loss at San Francisco in the season opener, was far more upbeat in defeat this time.
"We’d always like to be 3-1 or 4-0, but 2-2 right now with 12 games left? We’re angry, but we’ll walk out of here with our heads high," Griffen said. "We can’t let this be the definition of us, going on a downslope. We’ve got to keep our heads up and keep on fighting."