EAGAN - There’s a month left in the NFL season, and the Minnesota Vikings largely control their own destiny in the path to the NFC Playoffs.
The Vikings (8-4) finish with three out of their last four games at home, including Sunday against the Detroit Lions without Matthew Stafford. The one game on the road is at the L.A. Chargers, 4-8 on the season and losers of three straight.
Mike Zimmer said it best on Wednesday: “We need to take advantage of this thing now.”
“We just have to go win games and count them up at the end. I’m not going to worry about, a lot of people jumped off the wagon after the other night, we’re just going to go and try win some more games,” Zimmer said. “The most important thing is we win as many as we can to try and get in the tournament at the end, and then let’s see what happens.”
They have to do their part, largely because they’re likely not going to get any help. The Green Bay Packers (9-3) remaining schedule includes Washington (3-9), Chicago (6-6), at Minnesota and at Detroit (3-8-1).
The Vikings know where they’re at with four games left. Win out, and you’re a playoff team that might even win the NFC North Division, which would mean a home playoff game. The path starts Sunday against the Lions, and that’s all the Vikings are focused on.
After having to mount a fourth quarter comeback to beat the Denver Broncos before the bye week, focus shouldn’t be an issue Sunday with a playoff run at stake.
“You’d have to pretty immature to overlook them. Just think about what happened against the Broncos here at home, what happened against the Bills last year. Every team is really good, and they have highly-paid, highly-skilled players and we barely beat them in Detroit, barely,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “You’d have to be pretty clueless to ever use the word overlook in terms of getting ready for this one.”
Cousins has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL since the Vikings’ 16-6 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in four of the last eight games, has 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Cousins engineered a fourth quarter comeback win against the Broncos after they trailed 20-0 at half and 23-7 entering the final 15 minutes.
He also led the Vikings on a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives at Seattle, and had a chance to lead them to a comeback win over the Seahawks on the final drive.
The importance of Sunday’s game and the last month isn’t lost on Stefon Diggs, who has seen plenty of attention from opposing defenses with Adam Thielen out the last month with a nagging hamstring injury. Without Thielen on Thursday Night Football against the Washington Redskins, Diggs had seven catches for 143 yards. In four games since, he’s got 13 catches, a single 100-yard game and one touchdown.
Defenses are blanketing Diggs, and it’s allowing for Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr. and even Laquon Treadwell to get more involved in the offense.
“I’m confident in our team, as always. We’ve put in a lot of work, we are a good football team, I believe that to be true. We’ve got a lot of guys that grind, put in a lot of work and a lot of effort, everything is in front of us,” Diggs said.
The Vikings also have some defensive issues to address. They got carved up for 444 total yards, including 218 on the ground at Seattle. Through 12 games, the Vikings are 16th in total defense (347.4 yards per game), 11th in points allowed (20.2) and 12th in yards per play (5.4). They allowing 104.5 yards rushing per game on average, and nearly 243 yards per game through the air. Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny combined for 176 yards rushing and three total touchdowns against the Vikings on Monday.
Defensive coordinator George Edwards says they’re not focused on stats. They’re concerned with doing whatever it takes to win games.
“What stings is right now, we’ve got to play better than we’re playing right now. That’s our main focus, we’re not worried about stats. What we’re concerned about is helping our team win, and in order to do that, we’ve got to play better football,” Edwards said.
The point remains the same for the Vikings, they know what they have to do if they want to be involved in the NFC Playoff race. It starts with a win over the Lions on Sunday, and building from there.
“Everything is still right there in front of us. Coach Zimmer challenged us this week to play our best football this week, and it’s time to put it all together in all three phases,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph is right, everything is in front of the Vikings. They have three out of their final four games at home, but still have to go out and execute. We saw last year playing at home at the end of the season doesn’t guarantee anything. With a playoff spot on the line, they played inexplicably flat in a season-ending home loss to the Bears.
It was the third time in five seasons under Zimmer that the Vikings missed the playoffs. They’re determined to change that in the last month, and leave last year in the past.
“It’s just about the next game, it’s about getting back on track. Stacking good play together, and building some momentum leading into that potential playoff run,” defensive lineman Stephen Weatherly said. “The only thing we’re trying to do is get a ticket to the dance. Once we get in, it’s anyone’s game. It’s about whatever team shows up to play on that given Saturday, Sunday, Monday, I don’t even care what day it is. The only thing we want is a ticket in, and then we’re going to take care of business.”