Zimmer, Vikings ‘soul searching’ after collapse
By Dave Campbell
AP Pro Football Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — All was well in Minnesota as the bye week arrived in mid-October.
Mike Zimmer was zooming toward a landslide victory in the NFL Coach of the Year award voting after guiding the Vikings to an 11-5 record and an NFC North title last season and steering them to a 5-0 start in 2016 despite a barrage of early setbacks.
Then they collapsed, and nobody in the organization took the 8-8 finish harder than the head coach.
“We’re doing a lot of soul searching,” Zimmer said, “as to why we didn’t get into the playoffs.”
Watching quarterback Teddy Bridgewater be whisked away by ambulance after wrecking his left knee in practice on Aug. 30 was bad enough, before running back Adrian Peterson and both starting tackles landed on injured reserve by the fifth week of the season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner abruptly resigned on Nov. 2, the day after Zimmer had his first of four surgeries to address a detached retina in his right eye. One of those was an emergency operation on Nov. 30 that kept from coaching the next night against Dallas.
Zimmer, however, denied that his health kept him from doing the job to the fullest.
“I may have worked one hour less than I normally work, you know, after those surgeries. It wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Zimmer said on Tuesday. “There were a couple times I didn’t meet with the defense and watch some film, maybe a 30-minute session because I wasn’t supposed to look up.”
Accepting blame for the team’s struggles without being specific about how he can improve in 2017, Zimmer said he believes the chemistry in the locker room and the makeup of the roster remains strong.
“Ultimately, I’m responsible for getting these players where they need to go,” Zimmer said. “That’s what leadership is.”
Bridgewater’s return to action remains a mystery, though Zimmer said he’d “never bet against” him. In the meantime, Sam Bradford will undoubtedly keep the job for next season.
“He’s earned the right to be the starting quarterback,” Zimmer said, “and right now all I’m worried about is Teddy getting better.”
Here are some of the other notable developments from the season that will remain relevant in 2017:
TREADING LIGHTLY: With Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen producing career years and Cordarrelle Patterson working his way back into the mix, the Vikings were able to bring first-round draft pick Laquon Treadwell along slowly. But nobody would have predicted he’d catch only one pass (for 15 yards), the same number as Bradford. The rookie was slowed early by foot problems, then missed the last three weeks with a sprained ankle, but Zimmer praised his attitude and toughness.
“You always are going to give young guys the benefit of the doubt,” the coach said.
Treadwell appeared in only nine games and sparingly in those.
“You’ve just got to get in the game, man. Everything else, the plays, will come,” Treadwell said.
PASS-RUSHING PECKING ORDER: The Vikings led the NFL with 34 sacks by their defensive linemen, with Danielle Hunter topping the team with 12½. Brian Robison, still productive as a nearly-every-down player, will turn 34 before the draft after finishing his 10th season in Minnesota. He’s under contract for 2017, but could be asked to take a pay cut with the 22-year-old Hunter proving his ability to handle more action.
“He’s done enough to earn a starting position. I’m very proud of him,” Robison said. “I’m worried about wins and losses, so I’m willing to do whatever is going to help the team.”
HARRIS WOULD’VE HELPED: The Vikings burned through eight different combinations of starters on their sputtering offensive line and used 12 different players among the five spots. That didn’t include Mike Harris, who started 16 games at right guard in 2015 and five games at right tackle in 2014 but was unable to participate in 2016 because of a medical condition that neither Harris nor the Vikings have divulged.
His career has not been declared over, but Zimmer said he didn’t know if Harris would play again.
“I knew I could have made a difference,” Harris said. “That’s just hard.”
UP NEXT: In addition to home and away games against each NFC North foe, the Vikings will play the entire AFC North and the NFC South divisions in 2017. They’ll host Baltimore, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Tampa Bay and travel to Atlanta, Carolina and Pittsburgh. The Cleveland game is in London.
Their third-place finish will also pit them against Los Angeles and at Washington from the NFC West and East, respectively.