Zimmer hopes Vikings show mental toughness

Zimmer hopes Vikings show mental toughness

We’ll find out soon enough if Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is succeeding in building the kind of team he always admiring publicly.

Yes, talent is vital. And Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are assembling a lot of young, talented players. But equally important in Zimmer’s mind is players with the mental toughness to maneuver the arduous grind of an NFL season both physically and mentally.

“You kind of see those teams based on who they are and the teams that are winning,” Zimmer said Wednesday as he continued preparations for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium. “And you see how they bounce back from losses. You see how they focus on the job at hand, the preparation, things like that.”

Zimmer’s mentor, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, had a name for the kind of team he didn’t want to have.

“Parcells always said he didn’t want to have a yo-yo football team; up one week and down the next,” Zimmer said. “He wanted the same guys all the time and when we come out to practice we’re pretty much the same guys. You want to know each and every day when you come out. We had a couple setbacks obviously, but it’s time to get back on track.”

For the first time this season, the Vikings (8-5) are coming off two losses. But it’s a different feeling from the normal losing streak. The Vikings played so lifelessly in the 38-7 home loss to Seattle two weeks ago that last week’s competitive loss at Arizona was inspiring.

Missing four defensive starters and starting a franchise-record six rookies overall, the Vikings took on the No. 1 scoring offense and a team that was 10-2 and riding a six-game winning streak. And they did so on a short week when they had to travel.

Zimmer and players say they don’t believe in moral victories, but it sure sounds like they’re enjoying one. But they know that last week won’t matter if they turn into “yo-yos” and lose at home to the Bears (5-8) as the favored team.

“We know that it won’t be easy,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “The Bears have won four of their five games on the road. We know that.”

The Vikings, who are a game behind the Packers (9-4) in the NFC North, haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2012 season. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 2009 season.

But they can change all of that if they get some of their defenders healthy (safety Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring) looks ready to return after missing two of the past three games), limit the penalties and turnovers and simply take advantage of winnable home games against the Bears and Giants the next two weeks.

That could set up a season finale in Green Bay that could decide the NFC North title. But only if the Vikings don’t turn into yo-yos before then.

SERIES HISTORY:

108th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 56-50-2. The Vikings won the last meeting 23-20 on a last-second 36-yard field goal at Soldier Field on Nov. 1. It was the Vikings’ first win in Chicago since 2007. The Vikings are 32-21 against the Bears at home, including 1-1 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings won last year’s season finale 13-9. In 2010, the game had to be moved to TCF Bank Stadium when the Metrodome roof collapsed during a snow storm. The Bears won that game 40-14, knocking Brett Favre out of the game with a concussion on what would be the final play of his career. The teams met once in the playoffs. The Bears won that NFC divisional playoff game 35-18 in Minnesota after being swept by the Vikings during the regular season.

GAME PLAN:

The Vikings need to contain running back Matt Forte, who had 41 yards on 10 carries and four catches for 28 yards before leaving the first meeting early with a knee injury. Once Forte and Jeremy Langford are neutralized, the pass rush can attack Jay Cutler, who is very capable of reverting to his more careless self with the Bears basically out of the playoff picture. Offensively, the Vikings need to avoid the penalties and turnovers that derail them so easily. As a run-oriented team that depends on favorable field position and downs and distances, the Vikings need to play a clean, powerful game that doesn’t put too much stress on Bridgewater.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Vikings PR Marcus Sherels vs. Bears P Pat O’Donnell

The late-game woes of Bears kicker Robbie Gould aren’t the only thing to keep an eye on Sunday. When these teams last met, Sherels had one of the easiest 65-yard returns for a touchdown the league has ever seen. A beautifully designed returned was executed perfectly and Sherels practically jogged the last half of the play. Sherels is averaging 9.6 yards per return, good for 11th in the league. O’Donnell is 15th in net punting. Opponents are averaging 8.1 yards per return. Sherels has the only touchdown the Bears have allowed this season, as well as the longest return.

–Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Bears ILB Christian Jones

In the first meeting, Peterson took advantage of a beat-up Bears defense, rushing 20 times for 103 yards, a 5.2-yard average that wasn’t spectacular but was steady enough to control the game and carry Bridgewater through a sluggish 3 1/2 quarters. Jones, who leads the team with 76 stops, will need his line to stay stronger than it did in the first meeting. And an extra defender or two in the box will be needed to stop Peterson, who leads the NFL with 1,251 yards rushing.