MINNEAPOLIS - Coming off one of their worst performances of the season with their NFC Playoff lives on the line, the Minnesota Vikings are now left to reflect on a disappointing 2020 while getting ready for one final regular season game.
The Vikings went to New Orleans and put up their worst defensive performance in decades. They gave up 583 yards, the most ever by a Mike Zimmer defense. They allowed 52 points, the most the franchise has in decades. They’ve been short-handed most of the season, but the players that could be out there collectively had their worst games of the season on the same day.
Immediately after the loss, Zimmer called it the worst defense he’s ever had.
"As a player, you’ve got to take that stuff to heart and fix it no matter what the circumstances are. That’s just not how we want to play defense on the Vikings," safety Harrison Smith said.
The Saints ran for 264 yards, with Alvin Kamara going for 155 and tying an NFL record with six touchdowns. Zimmer said Monday he counted 17 missed tackles by the Minnesota defense. He called the performance "embarrassing" and hopes the unit responds Sunday in their final chance to do so.
"The biggest thing is when you get your nose rubbed in it, you’ve got to come back out and you’ve got to come back and fight," Zimmer said. "A lot of that is you learn how to figure out a way how to make sure that doesn’t happen to you ever again."
A defense having a bad day is one thing, and with a majority of the unit’s best players out injured, it came with little surprise. The problem is the timing couldn’t have been worse, with the Vikings needing to win out to have any chance at the playoffs.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Vikings. They got off to a horrid 1-5 start, fought their way back to 6-6 by going 5-1 out of the bye. They gave themselves a chance to be in the playoffs with their last four games.
They controlled their own destiny, until they didn’t. Losses at Tampa Bay and to the Bears put their backs against the wall. They were eliminated from the playoffs after Friday’s loss to the Saints. The reality of the 2020 season is that every phase has struggled at some point. It’s precisely why there aren’t fingers being pointed or players calling each other out heading into one final game.
"I think that’s part of being a man, right? You first have to look yourself in the mirror and say ‘Hey, what could’ve I done better? What could I do better? How could’ve I prepared better, how could’ve I been a better leader? Things like that, that’s the first thing you do," said Adam Thielen, who is third in the NFL with 14 touchdowns. "I think if you’re the right kind of competitor and you’re the guy that we have in this locker room, you don’t point fingers. You point one finger, you got fingers pointing right back at you. Just trying to evaluate yourself and figure out ways to help your team win."
The Vikings will be the ninth team in NFL history to have a 30-touchdown passer in Kirk Cousins and a 1,500-yard rusher in Dalvin Cook. The other eight teams won at least 10 games. The Vikings will be the first to finish under .500 and miss the playoffs.
Thielen said it is what it is.
"At the end of the day, that’s the NFL. It’s a big boy’s game, it’s a game where you’ve got to bring it week in and week out," Thielen said.
Zimmer, after calling out his defense Friday, took responsibility for their failures on Monday.
"These guys, they can play way better than they played, and I put that on me more so than on the players. That’s my job and I need to get it done better," Zimmer said.