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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ transformation under Mike Zimmer takes shape as NFC North champions

By Andrew Krammer

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In less than two years, Mike Zimmer has transformed the Vikings into winners.

There were no ‘Beat Green Bay’ T-shirts issued during the week’s preparation. There was no extra motivation needed. There was just an “emotional” pregame address from Zimmer, their fiery leader who led the Vikings to a NFC North title in just his second season as head coach.

For as much talk as there was about not making Sunday’s 20-13 win in Green Bay ‘too big,’ the magnitude of the game – a shot to dethrone the four-time reigning division champion Packers — wasn’t lost on anybody. And that was the crux of Zimmer’s message hours before they took over Lambeau Field, according to guard Brandon Fusco.

“There was just so much meaning to this game,” Fusco said. “We know Green Bay has taken the division for so many years. It’s time to take that step and I think he wanted it so bad, it was emotional for everybody.”

The emotion was palpable deep inside Lambeau Field. Players could be heard through the walls, bellowing celebrations and shedding frustrations at once. Hand warmers scattered the visiting locker room’s floor, with pads and helmets traded for ‘NFC North Champion’ hats and shirts.

As some Vikings executives took in the scene, defensive end Brian Robison was winding down from his postgame speech to his teammates. Zimmer took the pregame message, and postgame Gatorade bath, but handed the celebratory stage to Robison.

“I just told them that I was proud of them,” Robison said. “I’m proud of this team, I’m proud of the way they work, a lot of heart. I’ve never been around a team that works as hard as we do. I’m just happy to be a part of this team. And that’s what I told them. I told them, ‘You know what, this isn’t the end of the road for us. We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at. We’ve got another tough game next week and we’ve got to be ready to go.

“It’s kind of funny, because now I’m sitting here saying, ‘This win’s great and everything else; we’ve got to move onto next week.’ And that’s what [Zimmer] preaches all the time, so it’s like he’s brainwashing us.”

And they’ve welcomed that sort of brainwashing in Minnesota.

Zimmer has sent a consistent message since he was hired in January 2014 – to adopt an old-school, aggressive mentality. One win, the Vikings’ first at Lambeau Field since 2009, validities his efforts as the ‘smart’ and ‘tough’ signage on the walls at Winter Park have become more than a to-do list.

They committed just five penalties for 37 yards in Green Bay, and the backbone of this team – Zimmer’s hand-crafted defense – withstood a 35:42-of-60:00 deficit in time of possession. Despite missing one of their best defensive linemen in nose tackle Linval Joseph, the line stole the show and the Packers’ hopes of winning five straight division titles. Zone blitzes and twists pressured Aaron Rodgers into a forgettable night.

“I think he’s the best coach in the league,” Robison said of Zimmer. “There’s no doubt about it to me. The way he coaches, his passion. What he gets out of his players. The schemes he comes up with. He’s one of the smartest defensive minds in the game. I can’t say enough about him.”

Rodgers felt the brunt of the Vikings’ aggression. With Zimmer calling the defensive plays, the Vikings aimed to test Green Bay’s protection as they moved left guard Josh Sitton to left tackle, replacing the injured and inactive David Bakhtiari. They blitzed on critical situations and trusted their cornerbacks to cover the Packers’ receivers in man-to-man coverage. Seven Vikings were sent after Rodgers on a 4th-and-5 attempt in the first half, helping to force an incompletion.

The blitz came again when defensive end Everson Griffen made the game-deciding play. On a 3rd-and-12 in the third quarter, Griffen beat Sitton around the edge and forced a Rodgers fumble as he was throwing. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn scooped and scored on a 55-yard return to give the Vikings a 20-3 lead.

They landed 11 hits, including five sacks, on Rodgers.

“We didn’t come here to finish second,” Zimmer said. “We were going to take our swings, and if we got knocked down, we got knocked down.”

The Vikings didn’t wait to take their swings. Facing a 4th-and-3, on the opening drive, at their own 38-yard line, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer dialed up a fake punt to receiver Adam Thielen, who took a handoff for 41 yards deep into Packers’ territory. It’s another example of Zimmer’s mentality spreading, as Priefer has credited Zimmer for encouraging him to be aggressive on special teams.

“I think you credit coach for having the cojones to call it,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.

From Zimmer on down, the Vikings made clear they’re not settling for a division title. “We’ve got 24 hours to enjoy,” said Robison.

Their reward? The 11-win Vikings now get to host the back-to-back defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, a team that beat them 38-7 at TCF Bank Stadium last month.

“We’ve seen in years’ past, it’s all about the team that gets hot at the right time,” Robison said. “I’m hoping this is the game that sets us up.”

The post Vikings’ transformation under Mike Zimmer takes shape as NFC North champions appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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