MINNEAPOLIS - Mike Zimmer made one thing very clear at his weekly news conference on Wednesday: Any starter that’s healthy and not on the COVID-19 list for Sunday’s season finale against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium will play.
The Vikings (7-9) were eliminated from NFC Playoff contention after last week’s 37-10 loss at Green Bay. Sunday’s game doesn’t have any meaning for either team, other than potential positioning for the 2022 NFL Draft.
When asked if he might use Sunday’s game to play more rookies, or other players who haven’t seen a lot of snaps over the first 16 games, Zimmer’s answer was short and simple: "No."
Kirk Cousins was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, and Zimmer said he’ll start. In 15 games, Cousins has more than 3,900 yards passing, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions despite being sacked 25 times and facing pressure throughout the season.
"You only get so many opportunities. It’s our last opportunity this season. When you only get 17 guaranteed opportunities, you don’t want to take one for granted," Cousins said.
Athletes want to play, regardless of what the record says or the risk of getting hurt in a game that doesn’t mean anything, other than ending a lost season on a positive. Dalvin Cook says he supports Zimmer’s decision to play starters.
Cook has played 12 games this season, missing time with ankle and shoulder injuries, and one game due to the COVID-19 list. He has 1,301 total yards from scrimmage, and six rushing touchdowns this season.
"I’m going to fight with him, I’m going to go to war with him any time. That’s all I got to say about it," Cook said. "Any time it’s time to go lace the cleats up and coach needs me out there, I’m going to lace it up and go to war with him."
The Vikings are willing to risk injuries to franchise players despite it being a meaningless game. But don’t tell the players there’s nothing to play for.
"There’s always something to play for, I hate that term. I tell the guys all the time I don’t care how you cut it, there’s nothing like winning. We could be 0-16, and I’m still preparing to win that last game," defensive back Patrick Peterson said. "You don’t know when that opportunity is going to come to an end, and you don’t know who else is watching. I hate that term that we’re not playing for anything. You are playing for something."
VIKINGS ADDRESS UNCERTAINTY AFTER BEARS’ GAME
One thing seems certain for the Vikings after facing the Bears, regardless of the outcome: Changes are on the way. The Vikings will miss the NFC Playoffs for the second straight year, the third time in four seasons and fifth time in eight seasons under Mike Zimmer.
His job security is in question heading into the 2022 season. His son, co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer, addressed it on Thursday.
"We’re going to fight and work here as long as they tell us we can. I think he’s done a great job as head coach. This is one of the best year’s he’s been as head coach. I can’t speculate on what the future is," Adam Zimmer said.
Mike Zimmer has a 71-56-1 record in eight seasons as Vikings’ head coach, heading into what might be his final game with Minnesota. But he has just two playoff wins, both against New Orleans.
Cook admitted there’s uncertainty facing the franchise the second the clock hits zero on Sunday.
"I’ve been here with these same people for the last five years. I wouldn’t want to go to war with nobody else but these people. Whatever the future holds for everybody, I don’t know what’s going to happen," Cook said. "I know I love these people in this building. I love these coaches, that’s all I’ve got to say."
JUSTIN JEFFERSON: ‘WE SHOULD BE IN THE PLAYOFFS RIGHT NOW’
Justin Jefferson has already had a historic first two seasons with the Vikings, but has grown frustrated over the last month with the team’s inconsistency on offense. His biggest frustration is that the season ends Sunday, while seven other NFC teams will be in the playoffs.
The Vikings had 14 games come down to one possession this season. They finished 6-8 in those games. Turn a few of those around, and there’s a postseason to look forward to.
"We should be in the playoffs right now. We should have one of the best records in the league, we only shot ourselves in the foot, we only hurt ourselves," Jefferson said.
Jefferson was drafted a few months removed from winning a national title at LSU. But in two NFL seasons with the Vikings, he has never experienced being above .500.
"It should motivate everybody," Jefferson said.
Jefferson needs 124 yards on Sunday to break Randy Moss’s team record for receiving yards in a season. Jefferson gets the benefit of an extra game, but has 103 catches for 1,509 yards and nine touchdowns. Moss had 1,632 yards in an All-Pro season in 2003.