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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Once perfect, Vikings now appear to be a mentally fragile bunch

By Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings departed U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 9 after an 18-point victory over the Houston Texans, carrying a 5-0 record and dreams of a Super Bowl berth with them as they entered the bye week.

Injuries to two key players on offense – Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson – had done nothing to slow this bunch and many thought that Minnesota would return from a week off and pick up where it left off.

But nearly a month later, the confidence and swagger this team carried is nowhere to be found.

That was obvious on Sunday, following the Vikings’ 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions.

It was Minnesota’s third consecutive defeat and left the team’s locker room as quiet as the stunned crowd of 66,807 had been only a few minutes earlier after Golden Tate sidestepped cornerback Xavier Rhodes and broke a tackle attempt by safety Harrison Smith en route to a 28-yard touchdown on the first possession of the extra quarter.

Smith, asked where the Vikings’ psyche is at, admitted he doesn’t know. “We’ll find out tomorrow, but we have to press ahead to next week,” he said.

The Vikings’ losing streak started with a 21-10 defeat in Philadelphia that left Zimmer publicly fuming. After last Monday’s 20-10 loss in Chicago, Zimmer attempted to play it much cooler. He did the same thing Sunday.

“For the first time in three weeks this team really fought like I expect them to fight,” he said. “If we continue to do these kind of things, then we’ll win football games. … We’ll continue to move forward. I think there were some encouraging things.”

This was an acknowledgement of the fact that Zimmer knows his team has become mentally fragile. Aspirations of making a Super Bowl run have been replaced by doubt about whether this is a team worthy of the NFC North title, or even a playoff berth.

“In the NFL your success is completely derived from your ability to bounce back because (stuff) is going to happen,” said linebacker Chad Greeway, who has seen plenty of “stuff” happen in his 11 seasons in purple. “Everybody is good, it doesn’t matter who you play. You’re never judged on one game, that’s the beauty of it. At the same time, you’ve got to win games.

“Our success moving forward is all going to be in regard to our ability to move forward. It sucks we lost. Nobody wanted to have that happen today. We didn’t make enough plays. They made more plays than we did. We have to move forward after this. We don’t think about it as, ‘We’ve lost three in a row.’ If we are, we’re messed up. It’s a one week business and we have to find the ability to move forward. We played better today, but we didn’t win so it doesn’t matter.”

In the first game since Norv Turner abruptly resigned and Pat Shurmur took over as coordinator, the Vikings’ offense appeared to operate more efficiently. However, right tackle T.J. Clemmings remains a liability and on two occasions quarterback Sam Bradford was slow to get up after taking hits.

The second quarter will go down as one of the worst this season for the Vikings. It began with Blair Walsh making a 33-yard field goal to tie the score at 3-3 and it looked as if more points could be coming when Matthew Stafford, being pressured by defensive end Danielle Hunter, threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Greenway and returned to the Lions’ 18-yard line.

But somehow the Vikings moved 22-yards in the wrong direction as Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles took penalties and Bradford was sacked for a 9-yard loss on third-and-23 to set up a fourth-and-32.

A defense that earlier this season had made a case to be considered the best in the NFL did not help matters. The Lions took over at their own 16 and moved 84 yards on 17 plays, taking a 10-point lead on Stafford’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.

The Lions finished the day 7-for-14 on third-down conversions. Detroit scored on its opening possession as Matt Prater was able to convert a 47-yard field goal that was set up by Theo Riddick’s 42-yard run from the Lions’ 28 on third-and-7.

Despite all of this, the Vikings still had a chance to walk away with a victory. In fact, it appeared to be a done deal when tight end Rhett Ellison scored on a 1-yard run off right tackle with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give Minnesota a 16-13 lead.

The Lions began the final drive of regulation on their own 25-yard line with 23 seconds left. That should have been no problem for Minnesota’s defense, only on second-and-2 Stafford threw a 27-yard dart to Andre Roberts and then rushed to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball and stop the clock with 2 seconds remaining.

Prater, who had hit on field goals from 47- and 53-yards earlier, nailed a 58-yarder to tie the score.

Prater’s perfection only made it more painful that Blair Walsh’s inconsistency played a major role in costing the Vikings the game. Walsh’s failed extra-point attempt in the third quarter – his NFL-leading third of the season – kept the Lions ahead by a point instead of tying the score.

The Vikings had an opportunity to take a 12-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, when Walsh hit a 46-yard field-goal attempt too low and had it blocked by the Lions’ Tyrunn Walker.

As unexpected as the Vikings’ collapse has been, the fact Walsh would help to cost the Vikings a game is no surprise. There have been questions about whether Walsh is the right guy for this job for two-plus seasons and those only picked up when he missed badly to cost the Vikings near the end of their playoff game last January against Seattle.

The Vikings’ stubbornness in sticking with Walsh is similar to the Twins’ stubbornness in claiming the move of Miguel Sano to right field was a good idea. For some reason, a team can be told repeatedly they are making a mistake and yet, supposedly smart people, don’t want to listen.

The problem with Walsh is the easy part of this. So is diagnosing that the offensive line, and Clemmings in particular, need to improve. In Clemmings case, the best idea would be to bench him and move Sirles to right tackle when Alex Boone is ready to return at left guard.

What’s more difficult is figuring out where the Vikings’ swagger went during the bye week. That’s why Zimmer was attempting to put a positive spin on Sunday’s events.

“It’s hard to feel good after a loss, but today we looked like we have in the past,” he said. “Now, we didn’t get it done today, but we fought, we came back from a deficit, we did the things that typically this team does. … I’d rather go into a fight with these guys, the way they were today, then the last couple games.”

What Zimmer really needs is to go into a fight with the team he coached in the first five weeks. Unfortunately, that collection isn’t anywhere to be found.

The post Zulgad: Once perfect, Vikings now appear to be a mentally fragile bunch appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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