Listening to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer today reinforced the reality that those who pour their souls into the NFL don’t adhere to the term “meaningless” games.
Zimmer was asked if he pays attention to the playoff scenarios while preparing for that week’s opponent. At 6-7, the Vikings aren’t mathematically eliminated, but let’s just say it doesn’t look good. At least one website has listed their chances of making the playoffs at 0.1 percent. And that drops to eliminated if the Rams lose to the Cardinals on Thursday.
“I honestly don’t know the records of a lot of the teams,” Zimmer said. “It’s more about just Detroit. I know people have told me that if we win these and these people lose and this and that.”
Zimmer then paused and made it clear that even when the Vikings are eliminated, the final three games will make a difference in the building of a program and the mentality he’s looking to establish. And if you read between the lines, you can tell that a winning record, regardless of post-season participation, will mean an awful lot to the rookie head coach during a tumultuous season that began with a player getting shot in the calf after the preseason opener and took a hard turn south with Adrian Peterson being removed from the team after the regular season opener.
“I don’t want to get sentimental here, but we’ve come from a long, long way this year,” Zimmer said. “From all the things that have happened, all the things that we’ve overcame from even before the St. Louis game to the opportunities that we now have in the last three weeks. I think that’s a pretty good testament to our football team and how they work and how they do the things we ask them to.
“And the coaches, too. The coaches do really a great job in trying to figure out what we can do, how we can win, how we can get to an opportunity that we have.”
In other news:
Other than linebacker Michael Mauti’s season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery not being related to Mauti’s three torn ACLs in five years at Penn State, Zimmer didn’t give much of an injury update today. Like most coaches, he’s not a big fan of telling the other team where his guys are hurting most. Zimmer did say linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) was “feeling better.” We’ll have the first official injury report of the week later.
The Vikings put linebacker Michael Mauti on injured reserve, meaning he will miss the rest of the season.
To replace him, they signed offensive tackle Carter Bykowski off San Francisco’s practice squad. Bykowski was a seventh-round pick in 2012 and has been on the 49ers practice squad for two seasons. He is from Eden Prairie, and played college football at Iowa State.
Bykowski is 6-7 and 310 pounds. After playing tight end as a freshman at Iowa State, he redshirted a season while being converted to tackle. He was with the Cyclones for five years (2008-12).
Bykowski won two state football titles at Eden Prairie, and was also a standout on the basketball team before graduating in 2008.
Mauti’s injury is unknown. He was not listed on the team’s injury report last week.
The situation: With 8:11 left in the first quarter, the Jets offense faced a 3rd and 6 at the Vikings’ 35 down 7-2
The context: The Vikings scored on the first play from scrimmage with linebacker Gerald Hodges’ interception returned for a touchdown. But prior to this drive, the Vikings allowed a safety and needed a stop to hold onto their lead.
The result: Jets quarterback Geno Smith connected with wide receiver Percy Harvin on a 35-yard touchdown pass to go up 9-7
How it happened:
This will be more of a macro look than your typical Vikings Rewind. I’ll explain what I mean by that after dissecting the play.
The Vikings showed blitz but backed off linebackers Chad Greenway and Gerald Hodges right before the play in their nickel defense. The Jets had three wide receivers in a 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends) with wide receiver Percy Harvin (circled in red) covered by cornerback Josh Robinson.
As the play developed, Harvin got a beat on Robinson five yards from the line of scrimmage. With safety Robert Blanton accounting for wide receiver Jeremy Kerley slipping past the wall of linebackers right at the first down marker, Robinson was left alone with Harvin.
Smith threw a poor ball well short of his target, forcing a jump ball situation between Harvin and Robinson. It was a good thing for Robinson because Harvin still had a step on him at the time. Robinson didn’t react quickly enough to the ball and overran it at this point when Harvin stopped to locate the ball.
Robinson remained out of position, which led to an easy touchdown for Harvin against his former team and gave the Jets a 9-7 lead.
“He was bad off the line of scrimmage, he put himself in bad position early and then he wasn’t able to locate the ball in the air,” Zimmer said.
Robinson has been inconsistent as of late, which Zimmer citing technique and toughness as two reasons why his performance has dipped, but there’s a bigger picture involved at this point of the game.
The Vikings couldn’t have scripted a better start with Hodges’ interception, but they squandered their lead by allowing nine points on both sides of the ball. Bridgewater was sacked in the end zone for a safety due to miscommunication between left guard Charlie Johnson and left tackle Matt Kalil on a defensive stunt, a common sight all season.
“Usually when they run that kind of stunt, I’ll punch a guy over, [Johnson] will take over and you’ll get the looper,” Kalil said. “I think we were on such different levels that I had to carry him down a little longer, and I don’t think [Johnson] was able to get over because I was at a deeper depth. I just got over late, and he just came over with the sack.”
Harvin’s touchdown was the only one scored by the Jets, and they still managed to force overtime. They kicked five field goals from this point to post 21 points at the end of regulation.
One of the best things to come out of this game for the Vikings was Zimmer’s mentality after the game. He knew, we all knew, this game shouldn’t have gone to overtime.
Zimmer’s opening statement after the game: “Honestly, it was a pretty sloppy game today in my opinion. It was good to win and it was good to see we overcame a lot of adversity, although most of the was a lot caused by ourselves.”
This sequence, a Vikings safety and Harvin’s touchdown, was a prime example of what Zimmer meant in that quote. The Vikings should’ve played much better given the opponent and how the game played out.
It’s a young roster, and while they’re learning how to win those close games against the Jets and Bucs in overtime, the next step is to control those games and dominant these type of teams. That may come with time, but Zimmer hasn’t lowered his high expectations all year, and it’s a good sign that he remained consistent with that mentality even after a win.
This was almost too predictable, so maybe those of us who relished Cleveland’s slow start this season were simply doing so because we knew it wouldn’t last.
And those Wolves fans who harbored (very early) illusions that their team could somehow keep up with the Cavaliers this season after the summer blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Love there and a youth movement here … well, deep down they, too, must have known that such a notion was sheer folly.
When the Cavs were 5-7, it was fashionable to wonder if LeBron was getting old early (he turns 30 later this month, and because he went straight to the NBA from high school, routinely goes to the playoffs and also does Team USA duty, there is a lot more wear on his tires than, say, a similar player a generation ago playing two, three or even four much shorter college seasons early on).
It was fashionable to wonder if Kyrie Irving’s shoot first, ask questions later mentality would doom a team with plenty of star power. And it was fashionable to wonder if Love was miscast in this group, unable to find a niche.
Some of these questions are still worth asking long-term, but in the short term Cleveland has shut up the skeptics. The Cavs beat one of the East’s best teams, Toronto, last night for their eighth consecutive victory.
LeBron led the way with 35 points; Love had 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists; Irving, in a more traditional point guard game, had 13 points and 10 assists. As a team, Cleveland had 27 assists on 39 made field goals — a far cry from last month’s six-assist game that sparked one of the rounds of “what’s wrong with Cleveland” stories.
It was always going to take time for a team with so many new pieces trying to fit together. But it was always just a matter of time before Cleveland figured it out. That doesn’t mean the Cavs are going to win an NBA title, but it does mean we can stop with the illusion that they’re going to fail miserably.