GREEN BAY – His Vikings lead the division by a game over the Packers, but Coach Mike Zimmer makes his team’s sudden success sound surprising.
“We’re a blue collar team that likes to go out and work. I’ve been trying to build a culture of winning. This year we won all of the preseason games except one. Last year we won all of the preseason games. I know those don’t mean anything but, honestly, we’re trying to be like the Packers,” Zimmer told Packers media on Wednesday.
“As bad as that might sound to Vikings fans, they’ve been an unbelievable organization. Mike McCarthy has done an unbelievable job. They’ve got franchise quarterbacks and Super Bowls, and we’re just trying to get in the same mix as them,” Zimmer added.
That’s the big picture. The little picture has the 7-2 Vikings on a five-game winning streak. They’ll host the 6-3 Packers, currently riding a three-game losing streak, in a NFC North showdown this Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
With a win, the Vikings would take a two-game lead over the Packers into the final six games of the season. A Packers win would move them into a tie with the Vikings but, more importantly, would give the Packers a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.
“There are still seven more games to play. The Packers were 5-3 last year and ended up winning a bunch of games at the end. A lot of things can happen in these next seven ballgames. Maybe the last game of the year on Jan. 3rd, that might be the swing game if we continue to play good,” Zimmer said.
“Obviously, it’s a big game because it’s a division game. It’s two pretty good teams; I know they’re pretty good, I don’t know if we are,” he added.
The stats say the Vikings are pretty good, too. They’re the league’s No. 1 rushing team with the league’s No. rusher, Adrian Peterson. Defensively, the Vikings are No. 9 overall.
Zimmer is in just his second season as Vikings coach. How did he turn the Vikings around as quickly as he did?
“I don’t consider us turned around. My expectations are more about how we play and doing things right,” he said.
“We’re running the ball pretty good. Defensively, we’ve played fairly well in the red zone. Our special teams have played well all year. Defensively, we have spurts when we give up plays. Offensively, we have to get better,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings’ No. 29 ranking on offense is the product of a passing game that’s No. 31 and developing steadily under the guidance of second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater’s 84.6 passer rating is in the bottom 10 of NFL quarterbacks, but Zimmer painted a much brighter picture of his young quarterback’s performance.
“He’s extremely composed; nothing rattles him. I love the kid,” Zimmer said.
Peterson, of course, has long been the Vikings’ star.
“Ever since I’ve walked in here, he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do. He’s bought into the team attitude. He’s running very well. He runs with violence. He’s running where the holes are and sometimes he breaks real good ones,” Zimmer said.
Peterson has rushed for 961 yards and five touchdowns, one of those scores an 80-yard run.
The Vikings’ win streak has Minneapolis bubbling with football fever again. The most popular shirt in town bears the words “Beat Green Bay” on the back.
“I have not put one on, no,” Zimmer said.
“I’ve never talked about any teams in the division. All I’ve talked about is us and how we can improve. I try to teach them how to do things right,” Zimmer said.
It appears the Vikings have been taught well.
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