Vikings trying to earn winner-takes-division showdown vs. Packers

Vikings trying to earn winner-takes-division showdown vs. Packers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings will clinch a playoff berth hours before they step on the field next Sunday night if the Atlanta Falcons lose at home to the Carolina Panthers or the Seattle Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams at home earlier in the day.

What say you, coach Mike Zimmer?

“I don’t know,” he shrugged on Monday. “I don’t feel too good about it yet. Our goal really isn’t to get in the playoffs. Our goal is to win the division first.”

With Sunday’s 38-17 rout of the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings moved to 9-5 and a closer to their first playoff berth since 2012. But they still trail the Green Packers (10-4) by a game in the NFC North with games against the New York Giants at home on Sunday and at Green Bay the following week.

If the playoffs began today, the Vikings would be the No. 6 seed and have to travel to Green Bay for a wild-card game. The Vikings are hoping for at least one outdoor playoff game at their temporary home before moving into U.S. Bank Stadium next season.

For that to happen, Zimmer needs the kind of effort he got Sunday and, better yet, some good news on the injury front. The Vikings played Sunday’s game without three of their best starting defenders – linebacker Anthony Barr (groin), safety Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot) – while running back Adrian Peterson was limited to six second-half carries after spraining his left ankle.

Zimmer said the defensive players “are really close” to returning. As for Peterson, Zimmer said he’ll be “all right,” joking that head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman said, “He’s like Rubberman.”

Sunday, the Vikings dominated from start to finish.

Defensively, they opened with two three-and-outs and led 10-0 before Chicago got a first down. Offensively, coordinator Norv Turner struck the perfect balance on the opening drive, pushing the Bears 93 yards in 13 plays, with Peterson carrying the ball seven times, Teddy Bridgewater throwing it six times and four receivers catching one pass apiece, including Stefon Diggs, who caught the first of his two touchdowns, a 15-yarder over the shoulder in the corner of the end zone.

Bridgewater posted the second-best passer rating in team history (154.4), second only to Gus Frerotte, who had a 157.2 in 2003. Bridgewater was 17 of 20 for 231 yards, four touchdowns, no turnovers and a rushing touchdown.

Asked if the passing game explosion meant the run-oriented Vikings might open things up a little the rest of the season, Zimmer said, “I don’t think we’ll be (a passing team). We want to run the football. And we want to be efficient running the ball. I don’t see us as team that’s going to be throwing the ball every play. That’s just now who we are and built how we are right now. But I think you can see when we’re effective throwing the ball how much better we can be.”

Right now, they’re oh-so-close to being a playoff team. But for a franchise that has only one playoff win in Peterson’s nine-year career, the bar has been raised by the second-year head coach.

–After the 38-7 loss to Seattle two weeks ago, Zimmer mentioned that he went through a McDonald’s drive-thru, ordered two cheeseburgers and got only one.

“That’s what kind of week it’s been,” he joked.

McDonald’s shipped him 100 cheeseburgers later.

Monday, Zimmer was asked how quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is progressing in his ability to make protection calls with the offensive line. While trying to refer to the Bears game the day before, Zimmer’s answer might have drawn negative attention to a brand name sleep medication.

“I think he feels good with it,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know that it’s different than it was earlier in the year. They caught us on a couple (blitzes) the other night … yesterday … whenever it was.”

Zimmer then paused and laughed at the fact he couldn’t remember when the game was.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he said. “That Lunesta did not work. Uh-oh, I’m going to get in trouble for that, aren’t I. Dang. I’m going to get in trouble again. Shoot. I got to start using like generic names or something, right?”

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS:

–PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus. Teddy Bridgewater played the best game of his two-year career. He completed 17 of 20 passes with four touchdowns, no turnovers, a 154.4 passer rating and a rushing touchdown. His first touchdown was a beautiful 15-yard, over-the-shoulder lob to Stefon Diggs. Diggs had his first two-touchdown game. Running back Jerick McKinnon broke three tackles for his first career touchdown, a 17-yarder on third down. Fullback Zach Line caught a touchdown pass. The offensive line played very well, including a perfect pocket that allowed Bridgewater time to launch a deep ball that Mike Wallace turned into a season-long 34-yard grab.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B. The running game wasn’t dominant, averaging only 3.6 yards. But it was consistently positive, allowing offensive coordinator Norv Turner to stay balanced. Adrian Peterson ran the ball 18 times, while Bridgewater threw the ball 20 times. Peterson was relatively quiet with only 63 yards, a 3.5-yard average, and a long of only 10. Matt Asiata averaged 5.6 yards on five carries with a team-high 19 yards. Bridgewater’s 12-yard touchdown run was a highlight-reel play in which he broke loose and leapt into a defender at the goal line.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. Jay Cutler ended up with a 93.4 passer rating, but he had only 231 yards on 26 completions. He was sacked five times and intercepted by defensive end Just Trattou on an ugly screen pass. Defensive end Brian Robison bailed out the special teams early in the second half. Chicago opened the third quarter with a successful onside kick. But Robison snuffed out that drive with a strip sack and fumble recovery. Rookie end Danielle Hunter had 1.5 sacks. The Vikings also contained Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery for a change. He caught a 10-yard touchdown pass, but that was his only catch in five targets. Jeffery had 10 catches for 116 yards in the first meeting this year.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B. The Bears averaged 4.7 yards, but had only two runs of 10 yards or longer. Matt Forte was limited to only eight carries for 47 yards. Jeremy Langford had only 46 yards on 11 carries. Once the Bears fell far behind in the third quarter, the Vikings no longer had to worry about the run. The Bears finished with only 94 rushing yards. Of course, it helped that Forte’s 35-yard run on the first snap of the game was negated by penalty.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D. For the second straight home game, rookie first-round draft pick Trae Waynes had to make a touchdown-saving tackle at midfield on the opening kickoff. The Bears returned Sunday’s opening kick 49 yards to the 50. The Vikings also were caught off-guard on the second-half kickoff when the Bears executed a successful onside kick. Kicker Blair Walsh made his only field-goal attempt when he banked in a 53-yarder off the left upright. Punter Jeff Locke struggled with a 36.3-yard net on three punts. He had a weak 36-yarder and a touchback.

–COACHING: B. After two straight losses overall and two straight home blowout losses, the Vikings were mentally and physically primed for Sunday’s game. The Bears had no first downs or points when the Vikings took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. That’s pretty good for a team that was playing without three of its best defenders in linebacker Anthony Barr (groin), free safety Harrison Smith (hamstring/knee) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot). Offensively, Turner’s play-calling and balance was exceptional from the first drive. On that 93-yard drive, Peterson ran seven times, Bridgewater threw six times and four receivers had one catch apiece. The special teams were uncharacteristically lacking, but overall, the Vikings were exceptionally well-coached.