EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Back-to-back losses to division opponents have likely sealed the Vikings’ postseason fate.
But don’t expect Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer to end the fight. He’s going out punching in his first year as head coach.
"I’m just not one of those kind of guys — ‘It’s the eighth round and I’m throwing the towel in and we’re going to put in some other puncher,’" Zimmer said Wednesday. "I’m going to fight for 10."
Minnesota is three games out of a Wild Card spot and four games behind NFC North-leading Green Bay with five contests to play.
Zimmer isn’t changing his approach to this season and won’t look ahead to next year. His eyes are focused completely on Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
"For me, it’s way too early to be thinking about next year and things like that," Zimmer said. "I want to play good for our fans. I’m still trying to build this team the way I want it to be. Just because we have some losses doesn’t mean we step back and re-evaluate where we’re at and what we’re doing."
Losses the past two weeks to Chicago and Green Bay have changed the outlook from when Minnesota entered its bye week with back-to-back wins.
In some ways, Zimmer offered the cliche response of focusing just on the game ahead. Except in this new coach and his developing team, a sense builds that going out punching is more than just talk.
"This team, man, we just fight," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Monday. "We’re fighters. Everybody in this locker room, we want to win so bad. So, we’re just going to watch film, get better and we got better from watching film today and get ready for next week."
Zimmer’s first season with the Vikings has always been about more than simple wins and losses, though.
After three rollercoaster seasons under coach Leslie Frazier, the organization is trying to develop a new mindset built on Zimmer’s ideals and philosophies. Along the way, the Vikings have broken in a new, hopeful franchise quarterback and the team is full of young players, including seven first-round draft picks from the past three seasons.
Minnesota has a new offense with coordinator Norv Turner and a defense shaped by Zimmer. Expectations should have been built on a season-long development. Zimmer wasn’t sure how long the transition would take.
"You never know," Zimmer said. "I guess we as coaches are trying to put our stamp on it however we can. We’re continually trying to improve what we can do and keep getting better all the time. You never know how long something’s going to take. But it’s all about getting wins and that’s all I care about is trying to win. I don’t care about anything else."
Landing punches — and wins — over the final five weeks will play a role in the Vikings’ growth.
This week’s opponent, Munnerlyn’s former team in Carolina, is a good example of what can come from a strong finish.
In 2012, the Panthers won five of their final six games to finish 7-9. The next season, Carolina was 12-4 and won its division. Munnerlyn believes the foundation for 2013 was built a year earlier.
"It can carry on," Munnerlyn said. "The chemistry with your team and get everybody back healthy and go out there and just compete with each other."
Loadholt out, Webb in: Minnesota officially placed right tackle Phil Loadholt on injured reserve and signed offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb.
Loadholt will have surgery Friday to repair a torn pectoral, the same injury that sidelined right guard Brandon Fusco in Week 3. Loadholt said he should be ready for training camp next season.
"I wouldn’t want anything more than to help my team out these last five games, but I’m going to do what I can to stay involved in meetings and help Mike (Harris) and the guys prepare as much as possible, and hopefully we can continue to build and win these last five games," Loadholt said Wednesday.
Loadholt had only missed two games in his six-year career previously.
Webb was a backup swing tackle for Minnesota last season and started one game in place of Loadholt. He was a free agent and hadn’t played this season when the Vikings called looking for more depth with Loadholt out.
"It takes a few days to kind of get back into the groove of things," Webb said. "You put the cleats on and put the pads back on and things get fast real quick. Not too long, you sure hope so."
Webb said he was beginning to get restless without a chance to play this season, but never thought his career was over.
"I didn’t think I was done," Webb said. "I just turned 26 years old and I’m still a big boy and ready to rock and roll. That thought never crossed my mind."
Zimmer said Harris will probably get the first chance to replace Loadholt with the starters, but he wouldn’t rule out Webb starting.
"That’s always the mindset, Webb said. "You want to go in and compete to play. You don’t want to be sitting on the sideline for too long."
Bubble boys: Minnesota finally received the bubble and heating system for its outdoor fields and has worked to get the field ready for practice. However, the snow on Wednesday forced the team inside again.
"We were going to go outside today, but with all the snow, we’re going to wait and we’ll probably see about it tomorrow or Friday for sure," Zimmer said. "The grass under the bubble is great. . . . The field looks great."
Zimmer has wanted to be outside for practices but the outdoor fields froze earlier than expected and the Vikings were waiting for the heating system to arrive from England. The field is covered by a bubble and heat is blown through.
"It’s just a mindset, really," Zimmer said. "It’s just about getting out and making sure guys . . . when they’re wearing different clothes and different things, they have a better feel for how they’re going to move and that stuff. It’s really honestly about a mindset to me. ‘Hey, we don’t care what it’s like, we’re going.’"
Asiata returns, other injuries: Running back Matt Asiata returned from a concussion to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.
Safety Harrison Smith (shoulder/ankle), receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (knee), running back Jerick McKinnon (low back), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) and tight end Chase Ford (hamstring/foot) didn’t practice Wednesday.
Floyd missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury but Zimmer said Floyd should be ready for Sunday’s game against Carolina.
Left tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) were limited Wednesday.