Saturday night at the team hotel in Denver, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer gathered his players for one last team meeting before Sunday’s game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
During his final team speech, Zimmer told the players he was going to be aggressive as a play-caller and decision maker against the Broncos the next day. If there were opportunities, he told them, “we’re going to go for it,” Zimmer said after the game.
Zimmer did come out aggressively. He and offensive coordinator Norv Turner threw the ball more than any of us — and both of them, Zimmer admitted — expected.
Zimmer gambled by going for it on fourth-and-one in his own territory. A 2-yard sneak by Teddy Bridgewater got the first down.
Later, Zimmer gambled — at least from this viewpoint — by calling a timeout with Peyton Manning facing a third-and-10 situation near midfield with 40 seconds left in the first half and Denver ahead 13-3. It was the Vikings’ final timeout of the half.
Manning converted the third down and then called a timeout. At that point, Zimmer wasn’t looking so good. Had Manning gone on and scored a touchdown, Zimmer would be getting ripped for giving Manning an extra timeout to move down the field.
But that’s not what happened. Manning threw the interception that Anthony Barr returned 32 yards. The Vikings scored a touchdown two plays later to make it a 13-10 game at the half.
“I didn’t know that he was going to throw the interception,” Zimmer said with a smile. “I wish I was that good.”
I asked Zimmer if he notices a positive reaction or energy boost from his players when he’s more aggressive with his decisions.
“I guess if they work,” he said. “I think players want to be that way. I don’t know you’d have to ask them, I guess is the best way to do it.”
But did you, Mike, notice a positive reaction from them?
“I did, I did, yes,” he said. “I saw a reaction from them. I talk to them the night before the ball game about the plan, as far as, you have your offensive and defensive plans and things like that, but the overall plan of how we’re going to play the game. I did a see a reaction out of them that night.”
Both calls were gutsy but overlooked because they didn’t backfire. Had Zimmer handed Manning the ball on downs on a short field or given him the time he needed to score right before the half, those calls would be used to bash Zimmer over the headset.
So how tough was the timeout call?
“Well, I did think that we were going to stop them and they weren’t going to get the first down,” Zimmer said. “I was trying to get the ball back for the offense, maybe get a punt return or something like that.”
“I do know [Manning is] very good in the two-minute drill, and it showed at the end of the ball game, but I just felt like if we had the opportunity, we needed to get some points on the board before the half.”
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman dropped the news of the Gerald Hodges trade to San Francisco at the outset of his annual bye-week media session with local reporters.
He spoke for about half an hour. Here are some of the other highlights:
— On whether he would consider bringing in kickers to compete with the struggling Blair Walsh doesn’t improve: “Blair is going through a little bit of a slump here now, but I think there’s no question that he’s our kicker. … Blair is working extremely hard to get through this. We’re doing everything we can with [special teams coordinator Mike] Priefer to get through this. People forget Blair a couple years ago was a young kicker who was in the Pro Bowl. Sometimes these guys go through issues. All of a sudden, [punter] Jeff Locke had some struggles last year and this year he’s punting lights out right now. Part of having young players is sometimes you’re going to have to get them through that adversity. Blair Walsh is our kicker.”
— On how Adrian Peterson has re-adjusted to the the Vikings’ offense and the NFL: “We didn’t have him last year, so that’s part of the process our coaches are going through. It’s, ‘OK, what do we do well?’ I think what Adrian has shown through these first four games is he looks like Adrian Peterson. That [48-yard touchdown] run he had in the Denver game, once he hit that crease, I didn’t see him with less speed that I saw before.”
— On Cordarrelle Patterson’s progress or lack thereof: “He’s made so many strides since a year ago and he continues to make strides. As these coaches evaluated our personnel, the one thing Zim always preaches is team comes first before any stats. As our guys are learning these players, they have a pretty good feel but they’re still, you know, ‘What are we?’ because now you have an Adrian Peterson in your backfield. With Cordarrelle, you can’t ask for a kid that’s working as hard as he can. And there are specific packages that he may be involved with. These guys are trying to put personnel together with specific packages.”
— On why rookie Stefon Diggs can come in and be targeted 10 times and be such a big part of the offense in his first game while Patterson continues to be such a small part or no part of the offense: “The coaches are really trying to identify strengths. Diggs had a productive days, but there are a lot of things he can improve on as well.”
— On receiver Mike Wallace, who didn’t practice today: “He was here. Is there an injury report this week?” Spielman didn’t reveal what kind of injury Wallace has.
— On his impressions on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater through his first 16 NFL games: “He’s continuing to progress. The [Denver] game, especially in the second half, when we had to throw the ball, I think he went 13 for 15 for 131 yards and no turnovers. That’s a sign of a young guy maturing. Like I said, if we can just push it over the edge a little more. And Teddy is probably the most unselfish football player on this team. If he’s only going to throw the ball 18 times, he could care less as long as we win the game.”
— On what’s next for Bridgewater: “Just continuing on the direction he’s going. He’s just going to get more and more comfortable as we go forward. The thing he’s really doing a good job on is, I think, two third-and-10 situations in this last game, he made plays with his legs to keep drives alive. He’s been very good with his decisions. … We’re very excited about the direction he’s been going, and he’s only going to get better with the more experience and the more games he’s going to get.”
— On rookie first-round draft pick Trae Waynes: “To see these young guys getting their feet wet as they go through special teams and then Trae , when he had to step in for that San Diego game [for the injured Xavier Rhodes]. From where he was in that Hall of Fame game to where he is now, it’s night and day. But that’s the normal progression you see in a lot of these rookies, especially at certain positions.”
The 49ers needed a linebacker. The Vikings had depth at the position and trust that rookie Eric Kendricks can step up as a starter. So Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman pulled the trigger today on a trade that sends starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges to San Francisco for a sixth-round draft pick next year and rookie center Nick Easton.
The sixth-rounder replaces the sixth-round pick the team traded to San Diego for backup offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles. And the opening at middle linebacker clears the way for Kendricks to step forward as the nickel linebacker to a three-down starter. Audie Cole, another player Spielman voiced confidence in, moves up to the backup role.
“I know [Kendricks] is a very instinctive football player,” Spielman said. “Each week, you see the more reps he’s getting the more comfortable he’s getting with the speed of this game. And he makes plays when he’s out there. We drafted him because of how strong we felt about him coming out. When we evaluated him in college, you’re starting to see all that come as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL. He’s a very instinctive linebacker who makes a lot of plays.”
So the trade made a lot of sense to Spielman.
“This was an opportunity where a team had a need and we had added depth at that position,” Spielman said. “It was something we went ahead and pulled the trigger on.”
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is pleased with the groundwork the Vikings have laid throughout the first quarter of the season, despite Sunday’s 23-20 loss at Denver and a .500 record entering their bye week.
“I think we laid a solid foundation over the first four games of the season,” Bridgewater said on Tuesday at Winter Park, “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.”
An early bye gives the Vikings a chance to self-assess sooner than later, Bridgewater added. They fell behind 13-0 on Sunday, but recovered late in the first half to trail 13-10 at the break. They tied the game 20-20 with 5:11 left in the fourth quarter, but Peyton Manning led the Broncos on a game-winning drive in the final minutes.
Bridgewater fumbled while being sacked during the Vikings’ final drive of the game. He threw for 269 yards, one touchdown and completed 27 of 41 pass attempts.
Bad starts were a reoccurring theme in the Vikings’ two losses this season. They fell behind 10-0 against San Francisco before finally scoring in the fourth quarter of a 20-3 loss. In their two victories against Detroit and San Diego, the Vikings built early leads.
“We’re working on starting fast each ball game and against Detroit and San Diego I think we got off to fast starts. Last week, we kind of felt our way around a little bit,” Bridgewater said. “For the most part, we’re a team that is playing physical and I’m proud of the guys the way they’re competing each week. Coach [Mike] Zimmer wants us to be a physical team and that’s what these guys are doing right now. They understand coach Zimmer’s message.”
Denver’s physical defense sacked Bridgewater seven times on Sunday, but the quarterback said he feels good and was able to take every rep during Tuesday’s practice.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson (ribs), safety Andrew Sendejo (knee) and defensive end Justin Trattou did not practice. Johnson and Sendejo stretched with the team, but Trattou was absent. Wide receiver Mike Wallace was also absent for unknown reasons.