MINNEAPOLIS - “Right now we’re not very good at anything.”
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was short and direct both with his team and reporters Sunday after the franchise’s first 0-2 start since he arrived in 2014. Zimmer replaced Leslie Frazier, whose 2013 team started 0-2 before finishing 5-10-1. Frazier was fired after the season, and Zimmer replaced him.
Sunday, Kirk Cousins had one of his worst games with the Vikings, finishing with 116 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 15.6 rating while taking a safety for the second straight week. The Indianapolis Colts’ run game gashed Minnesota’s defense for 151 yards and a touchdown, and the Vikings’ committed three defensive penalties on third down stops.
Everything that could go wrong Sunday did. The result was a 28-11 loss for the Vikings in front of about 2,500 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. So what did Zimmer tell his team after the game?
“I’ve been telling them we can’t start winning until we stop losing. Right now, we’re doing things to beat ourselves with the turnovers and sacks and safeties,” Zimmer said. “Penalties on third downs on defense, so I’m just not going to deal with it anymore.”
Perhaps most concerning is Zimmer, and the players, didn’t appear to have any answers to how it can be fixed after the game. They referred to watching the tape Monday, learning and looking themselves in the mirror.
After only getting 17 first-half plays last week, the Vikings started the game with a 13-play drive. The only thing missing was a touchdown. Dan Bailey converted a 21-yard field goal, and it would be Minnesota’s only points until a Dalvin Cook touchdown with 5:20 left in regulation and the game decided.
The Colts’ first offensive series, which lasted 16 plays, ended with Eric Wilson picking off a Philip Rivers’ pass. That’s where things started to go south for the Vikings. They did nothing with it, punted and Minnesota’s defense got a healthy dose of former Wisconsin star Jonathan Taylor. He scored from five yards out to give the Colts a 7-3 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Cousins was sacked in the end zone for the second straight week on pressure created by DeForest Buckner, and the Vikings were down 9-3. It’s the third straight regular season game they’ve given up a safety, dating back to last season. They’re the fourth team since 1970 to have that happen.
Cousins finished the day 11-of-26, was picked off three times and had a 0.0 rating entering the fourth quarter. An offense full of veterans and skill can’t find its rhythm two weeks in.
“Today was not a sharp day. We’ve just got to get back to work now and watch the tape, correct mistakes and have a major sense of urgency about the way we work this week going into Week 3,” Cousins said.
The Colts got a field goal after the safety, then got another three points late after Cousins tried to hit Adam Thielen deep, threw into double coverage and was intercepted. A 52-yard return on the play helped set up the second of four field goals for Rodrigo Blankenship.
The Vikings were out-gained 199-97 in the first half and allowed 14 first downs. After the field goal on their opening possession, the Vikings had five drives that totaled 22 yards with no first downs and two turnovers.
The Colts added to their lead in the third quarter after a Cousins throw was behind Bisi Johnson. It went off his hands and was picked off. They got a field goal to take an 18-3 lead.
Rivers, who threw for 214 yards Sunday, hit Zach Pascal for a 2-yard touchdown with 14 minutes to play. The Colts were up 25-3, and the game was effectively over. The Colts finished with 354 total yards and 24 first downs.
Perhaps more frustrating was the Vikings’ run defense. They allowed Indianapolis to run for 151 yards, and averaged nearly four yards per carry.
“Giving up 150 yards on the ground, that’s not something that we pride ourselves on here, so that’s something that we have to fix,” safety Anthony Harris said.
Already without Danielle Hunter and rookie Cameron Dantzler, the Vikings also lost Anthony Barr early in the game to a shoulder injury. Michael Pierce opted out in the off-season, and a new-look defense hasn’t come close to preseason expectations through two games.
Cook, who finished with 63 yards on 14 carries and Minnesota’s lone touchdown on the day, did his best to stay positive after the loss.
“This is a young, hungry team and I’ve got 1,000 percent faith in this team that we’re going to find ourselves and go out there and win our first football game. That’s what it’s about, winning football games. We’ve just got get that first one under our belt and I think once we do that, this thing will get rolling for us,” Cook said.
That road only gets steeper in the immediate future. Teams that start 0-2 typically have a 12 percent change to make the playoffs, and the Vikings next three opponents (Tennessee, Houston and Seattle) were all playoff teams last year.
Zimmer’s teams pride themselves on controlling the ball, having success in the red zone and on third down. Sunday, the Vikings were just 2-of-9 on third down, only had the ball twice in the red zone and spent more than 38 minutes on defense. That’s after being on defense for more than 41 minutes last Sunday.
“We’re going to have to get back to work and try to figure out what’s wrong. The identity of this team is not what it has been for the last six years,” Zimmer said.