CHARLOTTE – The last Viking off the field, Everson Griffen stormed up the ramp to the locker room, yelling so loudly some members of the marching band looked around nervously for the nearest exit. “We have a team! We have a team! I love my team!’’
Those are paraphrased quotes. Griffen mixed in a word that can’t be printed in a traditional newspaper, a word that is a longtime favorite of Griffen’s coach, the guy who masterminded the victory that led to the happiest rant you’ll ever hear in a football stadium.
Sunday afternoon, Mike Zimmer did his best work and earned his biggest victory. The Viking coach’s defense befuddled an excellent Carolina team that was scoring 40 points a game, sacking Cam Newton eight times and giving the Panthers their first home loss since 2014.
The final was 22-10 over the defending NFC champions, and that score is even more stunning when you consider the circumstances. The Vikings played their first game of the season without Adrian Peterson or left tackle Matt Kalil, in the second game with new quarterback Sam Bradford as a starter, and in weather so warm players found themselves cramping.
Zimmer almost gave up his search for a head coaching job before Vikings general manager Rick Spielman hired him at the age of 57. Zimmer took over a team that won five games. He is 21-14. Sunday provided more evidence that he may be one of the best head coaches in the NFL.
If Bill Belichick wasn’t performing his usual magic tricks, Zimmer might be the early front-runner for coach of the year. What probably matters more to him is that his team is 3-0 after beating the Packers and Panthers in consecutive weeks.
“It’s 90 percent coaching,’’ linebacker Chad Greenway said of the dominant defensive performance. “They’re putting us in the right positions. And we have good players who are making the plays.’’
“I was one of the guys that was lobbying for Mike to get a head coaching job way back when,’’ said cornerback Terence Newman, who played for Zimmer in Cincinnati. “He’s as good as they come. He knows every facet of the game — offense, defense and special teams. He’s done a great job with this team, for sure.’’
Carolina took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Then Danielle Hunter, one of Zimmer’s versatile athletes, threw away two Panthers on his way to sacking Newton for a safety. From that point, the Vikings outscored Carolina 22-0.
In the loud postgame locker room, players raved about Zimmer’s game planning and flexibility.
“Making ‘halftime adjustments’ is a little overblown in this league,’’ Greenway said. “I think reacting and learning from mistakes is what it’s really called. You’re not going to come in and change your scheme. But coach Zimmer has done a great job of educating us on his defense, so we understand how it works.’’
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn spoke of a coaching staff that employs a number of former coordinators. “They communicate things to us so quickly at halftime that we have an advantage,’’ he said.
On offense, coordinator Norv Turner reacted to a brutal first half by opting for shorter routes and patterns that would find the gaps in Carolina’s zone. The Vikings gained 34 total net yards in the first half, and 177 in the second. “You look at what we came out and did in the second half,’’ quarterback Sam Bradford said. “We came out and did some of our quicker stuff, we went empty a few times, we tried to spread them out.’’
Zimmer’s coaching chops have never been in question. The challenge for most first-time head coaches is handling team-wide communication and the role of franchise figurehead.
Players are perceptive. They can smell a fraud from a football field away. Zimmer’s straight talk and expertise have won over the locker room.
After the game, Zimmer offered a typically blunt message about winning big games to one of the NFL’s most battered yet dangerous teams. He said, “Get used to it.’’
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On