Saturday night at the team hotel in Denver, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer gathered his players for one last team meeting before Sunday’s game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
During his final team speech, Zimmer told the players he was going to be aggressive as a play-caller and decision maker against the Broncos the next day. If there were opportunities, he told them, “we’re going to go for it,” Zimmer said after the game.
Zimmer did come out aggressively. He and offensive coordinator Norv Turner threw the ball more than any of us — and both of them, Zimmer admitted — expected.
Zimmer gambled by going for it on fourth-and-one in his own territory. A 2-yard sneak by Teddy Bridgewater got the first down.
Later, Zimmer gambled — at least from this viewpoint — by calling a timeout with Peyton Manning facing a third-and-10 situation near midfield with 40 seconds left in the first half and Denver ahead 13-3. It was the Vikings’ final timeout of the half.
Manning converted the third down and then called a timeout. At that point, Zimmer wasn’t looking so good. Had Manning gone on and scored a touchdown, Zimmer would be getting ripped for giving Manning an extra timeout to move down the field.
But that’s not what happened. Manning threw the interception that Anthony Barr returned 32 yards. The Vikings scored a touchdown two plays later to make it a 13-10 game at the half.
“I didn’t know that he was going to throw the interception,” Zimmer said with a smile. “I wish I was that good.”
I asked Zimmer if he notices a positive reaction or energy boost from his players when he’s more aggressive with his decisions.
“I guess if they work,” he said. “I think players want to be that way. I don’t know you’d have to ask them, I guess is the best way to do it.”
But did you, Mike, notice a positive reaction from them?
“I did, I did, yes,” he said. “I saw a reaction from them. I talk to them the night before the ball game about the plan, as far as, you have your offensive and defensive plans and things like that, but the overall plan of how we’re going to play the game. I did a see a reaction out of them that night.”
Both calls were gutsy but overlooked because they didn’t backfire. Had Zimmer handed Manning the ball on downs on a short field or given him the time he needed to score right before the half, those calls would be used to bash Zimmer over the headset.
So how tough was the timeout call?
“Well, I did think that we were going to stop them and they weren’t going to get the first down,” Zimmer said. “I was trying to get the ball back for the offense, maybe get a punt return or something like that.”
“I do know [Manning is] very good in the two-minute drill, and it showed at the end of the ball game, but I just felt like if we had the opportunity, we needed to get some points on the board before the half.”