Vikings reflect on season after loss to Bears

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 30: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings hands the ball off to Dalvin Cook #33 in the first quarter of the game against the Chicago Bears. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

It was a mix of frustration and wondering what might have been as Vikings players cleaned out their lockers and said goodbyes Monday morning.

In a win-and-in scenario, the Vikings put up one of their worst offensive performances of the season in a 24-10 loss to the Chicago Bears. It was a statement win for the Bears, who played their starters the entire game despite the L.A. Rams beating the San Francisco 49ers to control the No. 2 seed.

The Vikings' loss, coupled with Philadelphia's win over the Redskins, eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs. The Bears will host the Eagles in next weekend's Wild Card round.

Minnesota controlled its own destiny with a victory, but got dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Players talked Monday of both frustration and disappointment that the season ended without a trip to the playoffs. One they didn't earn, and one they didn't deserve.

“I think there’s a lot of guys in this locker room that are disappointed. I hope they’re disappointed,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “When you don’t make the playoffs in this league and you feel like you had the guys to do it, it’s going to be disappointing. It is what it is now, so we have to make sure we learn from it.”

The loss with the season on the line led to speculation after the game that Mike Zimmer and potentially Rick Spielman were on the hot seat. Head coaches typically get let go on Black Monday, the day after the final week of the regular season. Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf left the locker room Sunday night without offering comment, but reportedly told the team in their meeting Monday that there won’t be any changes, and their belief in Zimmer and Spielman remains strong.

Zimmer’s teams have missed the playoffs three out of the last five seasons, but have won two division titles and were one game away from the Super Bowl last year. Zimmer has also been in charge of top-10 defenses in each of the last four seasons.

Despite only getting two carries for 18 yards on Sunday, running back Latavius Murray said he’s confident Zimmer is the right guy to lead the Vikings. Murray becomes a free agent this off-season, and hopes to return to Minnesota and compete with Dalvin Cook as the team’s featured running back.

“He knows exactly what he wants and he knows how to get it done. I believe he’s definitely going to make the right decisions,” Murray said. “It’s hard to win enough, let’s not make no mistake about it. This year we still had an opportunity but came up short.”

Even with Cook missing five games because of hamstring injury, Murray only averaged 8.8 attempts per game for the season. He averaged more than four yards per attempt in his limited role. In his top performance of the season, he ran for 155 yards and a touchdown, and caught a touchdown in the Week 6 win over Arizona.

“I’m not going to complain on playing time or anything like that. Obviously I want to be in the game as much as possible, but I’ll do my best to trust everything that we’re doing and that the coaches are working hard to put us in a position to win,” Murray said. “As a player, I have to believe in that.”

The biggest issue for the Vikings heading into the offseason is correcting issues on the offensive line, finding ways to run the ball and keeping Kirk Cousins upright. The Vikings finished No. 30 of 32 teams in rushing at 93.3 yards per game. They were also No. 27 in rushing attempts at 22.3 per game.

That’s despite saying repeatedly on a weekly basis that they needed to get back to running the ball. The Vikings ran for 220 yards on 40 carries against the Dolphins, one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. They ran it 15 times for 63 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Bears, the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL.

Players didn’t offer many answers for the offensive issues a day after the loss.

“They’re a great front 7, a great defense, but we’ve just got to do a better job executing. You’ve just got to take your licks and learn from it, move forward,” offensive lineman Tom Compton said.

There are more questions than answers as the Vikings head into the offseason with the No. 18 pick in the NFL Draft.

Several players on Monday emphasized a lack of consistency in the team’s offensive execution. It ultimately led to John DeFilippo’s dismissal after 13 games. There’s also no guarantee Kevin Stefanski will be the permanent replacement at offensive coordinator.

The Vikings put up 42 points and 435 total yards against the Dolphins in Stefanski’s debut. That was followed by 353 yards and three Kirk Cousins touchdowns in a win at Detroit. But the offense went nowhere against the Bears. Cousins was sacked four times and had just 80 passing yards until late in the fourth quarter. They started with four three-and-outs and didn't have a first down until midway through the first half.

“We had the talent, we had everything we needed. We just didn’t string it all together. We’ve got more than enough talent and we’ve got the coaches, we just need to make sure we’re consistent,” Stefon Diggs said.

Diggs led the Vikings Sunday with eight catches for 47 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. He finished with his first career 1,000-yard season and had a career-high nine touchdowns.

Kirk Cousins also had the second-best season of his career from a statistical standpoint with 4,298 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He completed 70 percent of his passes and finished with a 99.7 passer rating, but was sacked 40 times.

“It wasn’t what we wanted, what our fan base wanted. It’s OK to be disappointed, I think if anything it’ll sharpen us and give us an edge as we prepare for next year, and I think that’s a good thing,” Cousins said.

So where did it go wrong? The Vikings had all kinds of trouble winning big games this season. They finished 1-6 against teams with winning records.

“This league is all about execution. It’s about going out there and playing your best on Sundays, and we just didn’t do that consistently enough this year,” Thielen said.

After the April NFL Draft, the Vikings will have organized team activities, mini camp and eventually training camp. Until then, the frustrations and what-ifs linger.