Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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It was an ugly game in the midst of an already-ugly season.
In his six weeks as an in-season NFL head coach, Mike Zimmer has dealt with everything from a suspended star to an injured starting quarterback to a gunshot free agent to kidney stones.
Sunday, he may have preferred kidney stones to what he witnessed.
His defense, which had played so well, gave up a literally last-second touchdown and the Vikings lost, 17-16, at Buffalo, sending the Vikings to 2-5.
A victory would have left the Vikings 3-4 with a trip to Tampa this weekend and a chance at .500. Instead, Zimmer must feel like he’s staring into the abyss.
Zimmer’s defense led the way, pressuring Kyle Orton and injuring the Bills’ two best backs in a physical performance against a team that has beaten the Bears and Lions this season. Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr, two players expected to benefit from Zimmer’s system, made plays all over the field.
Teddy Bridgewater looked overwhelmed early, but then regained his poise and began finding his long-lost wide receivers, even hitting Cordarrelle Patterson with a touchdown pass.
But the offense’s inability to produce more than one touchdown cost the Vikings a victory.
The Vikings had 10 days to prepare for a home game against an injury-depleted divisional opponent.
They looked like they needed 100.
All that time, and their game plan included one interesting wrinkle – rookie running back Jerick McKinnon making his first NFL start.
They didn’t find a way to make Cordarrelle Patterson a bigger part of the offense. They didn’t fix their offensive line, which was dominated by Detroit’s strong front seven. And offered little support for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who found himself under pressure all day.
The result was a 17-3 loss that was easily explainable, given Detroit's strong defense, but unsightly nontheless. The result was another horrid offensive performance and another division loss.
The Vikings are 2-4 after the toughest six-game stretch of their schedule. Had they emerged from this stretch with Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and a confidence-boosting offensive line, the record would not be worrisome.
The way they’re playing is.
The only bright spot on the offense was McKinnon, who looked explosive with the ball and even handled most of his pass-blocking duties well.
But on a windy day that made passes flutter, the Vikings couldn’t run the ball or throw it downfield, and Bridgewater often looked like a man painfully aware of his circumstances.
Greetings from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium, where Team Strib is preparing for the Vikings-Lions game.
At the beginning of the season, I thought that if everything went right - Matt Cassel played well and stayed healthy, Adrian Peterson performed well in the Vikings' offense, Kyle Rudolph had a breakout season and Mike Zimmer's defense worked well - the Vikings might win two of their first six games.
Despite all of their problems - injuries, suspensions, turmoil - the Vikings have already won two. In a division in which there are no sure things, and with Calvin Johnson's injury short-circuiting what looked like a possibly dominant Lions team, the Vikings have a chance to jump into contention today.
They face the Lions without Johnson and Reggie Bush, at home, in the rare game at TCF Bank that will be considered an advantage for Minnesota. The Lions rarely play well outdoors, and the loss of Johnson and Bush will make them much easier to game-plan against.
Here are the two most prominent aspects of the game I'll be watching today:
-Can Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner help Teddy Bridgewater get comfortable against a surprisingly strong defense? Can he involve Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerick McKinnon, his two most talented players?
-Can Harrison Smith run well on his sore ankle? Can the Vikings stuff running back Joquie Bell, and limit Golden Tate's ability to run after the catch?
If the Vikings can do those two things, I believe they win. And if they win, they'll be in contention for a playoff spot despite all of the terrible things that have happened to them so far.
A lot of bad ideas met up on Thursday night at Lambeau Field, their confluence producing the Vikings' 42-10 loss to the Packers.
Bad idea: Playing on the road on Thursday night. So far this season, road teams on Thursday night are 1-4, with the closest of those margins being 20 points.
Bad idea: Playing Christian Ponder in a football game. He wasn't just bad. He was unprofessional and embarrassing to the sport.
Bad idea: Playing the revitalized Packers offense without much preparation time. The Vikings' defense, impressive in three of the first four weeks, looked lost while trying to reach Aaron Rodgers, cover Jordy Nelson or tackle the previously ineffective Eddie Lacy.
The result was an unsightly addition to the annals of a usually fascinating rivalry.
It also offered evidence that the quarterback position is the most important in sports. With Teddy Bridgewater running the same offense last week, Jarius Wright played like a star, and Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were highly effective.
With Ponder at the helm, even playing against what has been a mediocre defense, the Vikings couldn't function.
Now the Vikings have to hope that Bridgewater's ankle injury isn't a harbinger of future injury problems.
The guy suddenly seems very important.
Jerry Kill inherited a terrible football program. On Saturday, his team was far better coached and better conditioned than Michigan, and blew out the Wolverines in the Big Quiet House.
Mike Zimmer took over a losing team, had his top free agent shot in a bar, lost his franchise player to a suspension, and on Sunday beat a talented Atlanta team with a rookie quarterback.
This was one of the most impressive weekends in memory for Minnesota football coaches.
Kill and Zimmer are building programs that should win for years.
You can see Kill's touch in his team's physical play. Michigan's strength is stopping the run, yet the Gophers ran all over the Wolverines. His roster is visibly stronger than it was when he arrived, and his defense could teach NFL teams how to make plays on balls in the air.
You can see Zimmer's touch in the way his teams limit top offensive players. The Vikings made the Rams look more inept than they really are. They limited Jimmy Graham and Julio Jones, keeping either from making game-breaking plays. The only receiver who has dominated the Vikings was Julian Edelman in Week 2, shortly after the Adrian Peterson news broke, and that probably happened because the Vikings figured Xavier Rhodes could handle Edelman one-on-one, and Edelman proved too elusive for him on that day.
Zimmer and Rick Spielman also seem to have done extremely well in the draft together. Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater are keepers.
Kill and Zimmer are teachers who have hired excellent staffs. What might be best for Minnesota football fans is, neither seems to be looking for their next career move. You get the sense both could be here, and winning, for a long time.
I'll be on 1500espn-am at 12:15 from Winter Park. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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