Mike Zimmer didn’t feel any new motivational T-shirts were necessary this week as his Vikings prepare for a rematch with their division rivals and recent tormentors from Green Bay, not with the sting of their Week 11 letdown against the Packers still lingering and certainly not with the NFC North title on the line Sunday night.
But the T-shirts Zimmer handed out a month ago — the bold black ones that read “Beat Green Bay!” — weren’t boxed up and shipped to another continent after the Vikings lost to the Packers 30-13. No, the players still sport them in the locker room or have left them hanging in their stalls as a reminder of what remained their ultimate objective.
“I wear it quite often because I didn’t forget about that game,” defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said Monday. “It’s in the washing machine. I’ll get it out [for this week].”
After that humbling Nov. 22 loss at TCF Bank Stadium, an uncharacteristically reckless performance, Zimmer stressed to his Vikings players that they would get another meaningful crack at the division-leading Packers if they took care of business down the stretch.
They dropped back-to-back games to the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals earlier this month. But Zimmer said the manner in which they regrouped after getting blown out by the Seahawks to play the Cardinals so closely while shorthanded on a short week made his young team believe that they were capable of making a run.
“I think that we’ve learned the kind of mentality that we have to have these last four weeks,” Zimmer said. “Really, the Arizona game, I think we had the right mentality. Going forward from that game on, we’ve played with the mentality that I like to play with.”
The Vikings outscored their next two opponents 87-34 to head into Lambeau Field on a two-game winning streak. Their scoring total in Sunday’s 49-17 victory over the New York Giants was their highest since 1998, and it was as much a byproduct of the play of Zimmer’s defense as it was the direct result of a punishing second-half running game.
The Packers, meanwhile, continue to flummox. They followed up their dominant win over the Vikings with a surprising Thanksgiving loss to the Chicago Bears. They needed a last-second Hail Mary to defeat the Detroit Lions in Week 13, then beat a couple of cellar-dwellers before getting thumped by the Arizona Cardinals, 38-8, on Sunday.
In that alarming loss, quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the end zone, was sacked eight times and had two fumbles returned for touchdowns before the Packers allowed him to seek permanent refuge on the sideline.
Then again, there was plenty of panic in Packersland after the Packers lost three straight games before traveling to TCF Bank Stadium last month, and look how that turned out: Rodgers tossed a pair of touchdown passes, including an unbelievable throw on the run to wide receiver James Jones. The Packers got running back Eddie Lacy going. Their pass rushers harassed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater all game. And the Vikings, one of the league’s least-penalized teams, completely lost their composure in a Packers victory.
“I’m sure they’ll play good, there’s no doubt about that,” Zimmer said. “I just happened to be watching [the Packers-Cardinals] game upstairs earlier [Sunday] and [Rodgers] still looks like a surgeon to me when he throws the ball. … It just kind of got out of hand. The score, really to me, was not indicative of how they were playing.”
However, Zimmer lamented that the rest of the NFC is “probably not really worried about” his Vikings, so he might just be playing the underdog card for yet another week.
Las Vegas oddsmakers agree with him. They have installed the Packers as early three-point favorites, perhaps because the Vikings have not won at Lambeau Field since 2009, the last time they won the division, and have beaten them just once this decade.
“We’re here now and not looking in the past,” Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson said. “So forget the past, worry about the future and take care of business.”
Forgetting the loss six weeks ago is easier said than done. But the Vikings can flush the memory by beating Green Bay this weekend and winning the North after all.
“We’ve still got an opportunity to win it,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “It fell right back into our laps, so now we have to go out there on Sunday and execute.”