Vikings need to 'fight like crazy' to make playoffs after 1-5 start

Minnesota Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith (22) celebrates with teammates after intercepting the football in action during a NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears on November 16, 2020 at Soldier Field, in Chicago, IL. ((Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

Mike Zimmer preaches it every week to the Minnesota Vikings, and generally gives it as one of the reasons after every win this season: Fight like crazy.

There have been plenty of times through 11 games for fans to give up on the 2020 season. It would be hard to blame players if it happened at times, too. But Zimmer refuses to quit, it’s not in his DNA. It might ultimately be the biggest piece to getting the Vikings to the playoffs after a 1-5 start.

The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) are in Minneapolis this weekend, and the Vikings sit one game out of the playoffs with five to play.

“We don’t really talk about any of the playoff things or anything like that, we just try to get better each week. Part of it is the mentality of this football team since I’ve been here has always been smart and tough and physical. I continually try to preach that message,” Zimmer said. “We dug ourselves a hole and the only way we can get out of it is by fighting.”

The Vikings had an uphill battle before they ever set foot on a football field this offseason. They let Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes and Andrew Sendejo all leave in free agency.

Danielle Hunter never played a snap, missing the last two weeks of training camp and ultimately having surgery for a herniated disc in his neck. They traded for Yannick Ngakoue, who they dealt away after six games. Anthony Barr went down with a season-ending torn pectoral in Week 2. Mike Hughes, Cameron Dantzler and Kris Boyd have dealt with injuries.

Pat Elflein went on injured reserve with a bad thumb, was eventually waived and signed with the New York Jets.

The Vikings’ started 1-5, and weren’t competitive against the Packers, Colts and Saints. They avoided disaster against the Houston Texans, and let winnable games against the Titans and Seahawks slip away.

They had to fight like crazy out of the bye to keep their season alive.

“It’s taken a lot. I feel like our work ethic and the way we handle meetings and stuff like that has been pretty consistent. That’s the thing that’s been consistent through this whole thing is how we come out and practice,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks, who leads the defense with 107 tackles and has three interceptions the last four games. “Our confidence is building. We’re still humble in the same sense, we know we’ve got to go out there and we’ve got to fight every week.”

They bought into Zimmer’s “fight like crazy” message out of the bye, handling the Packers, Lions and Bears in three straight division wins. They re-entered the NFC Playoff conversation before tripping up in a 31-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Last week, they fought back again with a 28-27 win over the Carolina Panthers. For the first time since leading a game-winning drive at New Orleans in the playoffs, Kirk Cousins took the Vikings 75 yards in 65 seconds and hit Chad Beebe for a game-winning touchdown with 46 seconds left.

They've won four of the last five games after a disastrous start, and given themselves a chance.

Two teams have made the playoffs since 1970 after a 1-5 start: The 2018 Colts and 2017 Chiefs. The Vikings are hoping to be the third, but the margin for error is razor thin.

“It’s kind of who the team is. That’s kind of our guys and who they’re wired to be is to fight like crazy. When you are 1-5, you have no choice but to fight like crazy,” Cousins said. “The margin for error is so small in these games, and that’s why you do need to fight like crazy.”

The Vikings need to put away the Jaguars, much like they should’ve with the Cowboys, to get to .500 (6-6) for the first time all season. They’ll have to fight like crazy the last four games, with three of them (Buccaneers, Saints and Lions) on the road to end the regular season.

The reality is this: If they want to taken seriously as a playoff team, it starts by winning Sunday and by fighting like crazy.

“This is another game where you just feel like you have to get the win one way or another. Gotta find a way,” Cousins said.

Irv Smith Jr., D.J. Wonnum won't play Sunday

The Vikings have ruled out tight end Irv Smith Jr. and defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum for Sunday's game against the Jaguars. Smith didn't practice all week and is listed as having a back injury. He will miss his third game in four weeks. Wonnum will miss his first game of the season after not practicing all week with back and ankle injuries.

Eric Kendricks, after being limited Thursday with a calf injury, is not listed on the final injury report and is expected to play Sunday. Adam Thielen is also expected to return after being on the COVID-19 list last week,