EAGAN (FOX 9) - There's no denying it: The 2018 season was a massive disappointment for the Minnesota Vikings, and they're ready to move onto 2019.
After going all-in on free agent Kirk Cousins with an $84 million fully-guaranteed contract, the Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the NFC Playoffs for the third time in five seasons. He had the numbers with nearly 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns, but it didn't translate to wins.
Cousins said it himself earlier this week: He'll ultimately be judged on the 16 regular season games, and hopefully, a run in the NFC Playoffs. It's why this week is so important for the Vikings with the start of Training Camp, as they aim to establish a consistency and a chemistry heading into the 2019 season.
"Regardless of what you did last year, if you went to the Super Bowl or not, you know that you have to come out here, you have to grind. You have to do the little things, you have to work hard because it's hard to win in this league," wide receiver Adam Thielen said. "You have to be firing on all cylinders when you get to that first game."
Missing the playoffs was one thing, but the path it took was especially frustrating for players and fans. They came back against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 2, and had two chances to win in overtime. Both Daniel Carlson kicks missed, and they settled for a 29-29 tie.
Win that game, and you're a playoff team.
The following Sunday, they hosted the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings got hit in the mouth early and never recovered in a 27-6 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium. It was a rough Sunday that had fans at U.S. Bank Stadium booing by halftime. Win that game, and you're a playoff team.
Fast forward to the regular season finale. The Vikings controlled their playoff destiny. They would be a Wild Card team with a win, at home, over a Chicago Bears team that knew by halftime it had nothing to play for. The Bears didn't care, and earned a 24-10 win over the Vikings that eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs.
It left a salty taste for the Vikings heading into the offseason, surely enough to give them motivation into organized team activities, mini camp and now Training Camp. That's two years removed from being one win away from playing a virtual home game in the Super Bowl.
"I think we learned from last year. We learned that we created an identity in 2017. Part of the reason we went 13-3 and were one game away from the Super Bowl, and we got away from that identity last year," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "We know what we have to do to get back, and the good thing about this team is we're willing to work for it."
It's easy to come out and have a good Training Camp practice on Day 1, Rudolph said. The key is to string together good days, and be ready for the first preseason game.
There will be days over the first two weeks of Training Camp where they're tired, where something just might not click. One thing they can control is effort, and how they approach each practice. The goal is for it to translate to success on the field when the games matter, starting in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons.
"Just be better than last year, and really and as a team, just get wins. Take it week by week and ultimately, win the Super Bowl. So it's a long process, started back in spring. I think we're in a good place," linebacker Anthony Barr said.
Vikings' ownership was visibly angry and frustrated after the 2018 regular season finale against the Bears. Deservedly so, but Zygi and Mark Wilf didn't act on emotion. Zimmer and Rick Spielman's contracts were extended by one year, and now the mission is to win games with a top-10 defense and a new offensive system that allows Cousins to be a top-tier quarterback.
Zimmer said Friday the only way to change perception is by proving it.
"Right now we're just trying to figure out how we can get better and win games. Focus on one particular game, focus on today's practice and see if we can get better and work together as a team," Zimmer said.
Vikings players across the board are saying all the right things. They want to do the work, they want to put the time in and they believe. Will it translate in the win column? We'll find out.
"Try to make a leap, and the best way to do that is really invest the time on the practice field. We've got guys that want to work. Kirk wants to be great, that's the thing about his craft. He's serious about it," wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. "Same with me, same with the receivers in our room. Just trying to build off last year. A lot of bad things happened, so we can learn from them and grow."