MINNEAPOLIS - Despite a 1-5 start to the season and losing two of their top defensive linemen for the season on Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings refuse to call the 2020 season a rebuild and the top priority is to fight their way back to a playoff spot.
“Our No. 1 goal is to win football games. Where that ends up at the end of the season, we’ll find out. As we move forward into the season, we still have 10 games left and a lot of football left. No one here in this organization thinks that the season is over right now,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday.
Albeit virtually, Spielman held his annual bye week session with reporters on Thursday. What’s happened on the field through six games has not matched what expectations were in the off-season.
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Spielman talked about the team’s 1-5 start, the play of Kirk Cousins, trading Yannick Ngakoue after just six games, how the team’s ownership is handling a rough season and he insistence that players aren’t giving up.
Only one team in recent memory has made the playoffs after a 1-5 start: The 2018 Indianapolis Colts, who finished 10-6. But last Sunday’s performance, a 40-23 loss to the previously winless Atlanta Falcons in which they trailed 20-0 at half, the result led to speculation on the futures of Mike Zimmer and Spielman himself. Both received two-year contract extensions in the off-season.
‘I don’t think anyone has lost faith in Kirk Cousins’
Spielman and the Vikings made it clear in the off-season. Their goal was to contend for a Super Bowl, and they were going to do it with Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Cousins was coming off one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for more than 3,600 yards, 26 touchdowns, just six interceptions and winning his first playoff game. This time last year, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month after 10 touchdowns and two interceptions over four wins in October. It all led to the Vikings signing Cousins to a two-year extension worth up to $66 million guaranteed.
It’s been a much different story this season. Through six games, he leads the NFL with 10 interceptions, including three in the first half last Sunday against the Falcons. He acknowledged after the loss if the trend continues, he may not play much longer. Spielman reiterated Thursday the team has confidence in Cousins.
“Kirk is very hard on himself. I don’t have any doubt he’s going to be able to rally. I don’t think anyone has lost faith in Kirk Cousins. I expect him to come back after the bye week and play well for us,” Spielman said.
Vikings trade Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore
In what could be just the start of moves for the Vikings before the NFL trade deadline, they dealt Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for a pair of draft picks. The Vikings traded a 2021 second round pick to Jacksonville in late August to bring Ngakoue to Minnesota. In a perfect world, he would replace Everson Griffen and pair with Danielle Hunter. The two would be the most dominant edge rushers in the NFL.
In six games with the Vikings, Ngakoue had five sacks, seven quarterback hits and seven tackles for a loss. Now Hunter is reportedly lost for the season to have surgery on a herniated disc in his neck. Spielman on Thursday called it a difficult decision.
A beat up, underperforming defense
Mike Zimmer prides himself on stout defenses, but he was presented with his biggest challenge yet this season. Linval Joseph, Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse all left in the off-season. Then Michael Pierce, Joseph’s replacement, opted out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anthony Barr is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in Week 2, and Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd and Holton Hill have all battled their own injuries through the first six games.
“Those guys are hard to replace, they’re all impact-type players for us on defense,” Spielman said.
They can’t generate a pass rush, and they’re going through the growing pains of a young secondary with Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney getting more game action than they’re probably ready for. The result is Minnesota is ranked 30th in pass defense in the NFL.
Vikings ownership ‘extremely supportive’
The Vikings feel they are better than their 1-5 record indicates, but often times you are what your record says you are. The reality is Minnesota hasn’t been competitive in three of its five losses, putting up points against the Packers and Falcons when the game was already decided. Players have said multiple times there’s too much talent on the roster for this to be a 1-5 team.
Last Sunday’s effort against a previously winless Atlanta team fueled speculation that Zimmer might be fired during the bye week. The argument could be made that Spielman’s seat is just as warm. He said Thursday Vikings’ owners Mark and Zygi Wilf have been extremely support amid a tough season.
“Everybody is disappointed on being 1-5 right now, but they’ve been extremely supportive. They understand everything that’s going on and just like all of us, we’re looking forward to the challenges coming ahead of us,” Spielman said.
Vikings No. 1 goal? ‘Go out and win football games’
The Vikings currently have about a six percent chance to make the playoffs, and they’re one of 10 teams with either one or zero wins through the first six games. That’s why they’re not giving up on the season, despite fans calling for Zimmer and Spielman to be out, Cousins to be benched and position themselves to get Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the NFL Draft.
But that’s not reality for professional athletes, and Spielman insists players aren’t giving up on the season. They return from the bye with three straight division games, still have to play the Lions and Bears twice and face a Jacksonville squad with just one win. When Spielman was asked Thursday if any veteran players have come to him requesting a trade to a winning team, he said, "No."
“We have a great group of guys down there, great group of leaders, high-character guys. I don’t have any doubt that this, with Coach Zim’s leadership, that this team wants to go out there and win,” Spielman said. “They’re going to do everything to go out there and win football games.”