Pointing to a changed offense, coach Mike Zimmer said Monday he senses the Vikings’ confidence rising despite a three-game losing streak.
Under interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the offense rallied with a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with less than a minute remaining in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Lions. The Vikings scored just 16 points and made a handful of critical red-zone errors, but “we’re moving in the right direction,” Zimmer said, after Shurmur’s first game as play caller following Norv Turner’s resignation last week.
“Honestly, I don’t know after the Chicago game that there was a lot of confidence in the offense,” Zimmer said. “Now, I think there’s some confidence in the things they accomplished [Sunday].”
Zimmer had the statistics ready to support an upswing from an offense that outgained the Lions in yardage 337-311, but the scoring issues continued as the Vikings came up empty on three of six drives from inside the Detroit 30-yard line.
One of the positives came in keeping Sam Bradford upright. A quicker passing game didn’t test the Vikings’ patchwork offensive line as much. Bradford was sacked only twice after being taken down 11 times in the previous two losses.
“We had 79 percent of the time the pocket was clean for the quarterback, 61 percent of the time we had efficient runs,” Zimmer said. “I thought we had good communication from the coaches to the offense.”
Another change came in Bradford’s helmet. Shurmur was in his ear throughout Sunday’s game instead of quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, who used to relay plays from Norv Turner to the quarterback.
Before the fateful third down, the one that Golden Tate turned into Detroit’s winning touchdown, second-year cornerback Trae Waynes had another learning experience.
Facing a third-and-8 in overtime, Waynes backpedaled behind the first-down marker, giving Tate too much room to catch a short hook route for a 12-yard completion.
“Trae is doing a good job. Where he needs to continue to improve is start to understand the situations,” Zimmer said. “Those things will come. We’ve just got to continue to work on them.”
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn likely dodged a significant injury as he is considered “day to day” due to a sprained ankle, Zimmer said.
Munnerlyn played only six snaps Sunday. Rookie Mackensie Alexander was pulled after 18 snaps following a penalty and 1-yard touchdown catch on consecutive snaps.
Veteran Terence Newman played the slot the rest of the game and could continue to spell Munnerlyn.
Zimmer said he does not regret letting more time run off before calling a timeout, which stopped the clock at 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Vikings scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play from the Lions 1-yard line.
“That part doesn’t bother me as much as the execution and my poor decisions,” Zimmer said, referring to the prevent defense play call. “I didn’t know we were going to score, we hadn’t scored. If we do score, we’re going to kick it down and it’s going to take six seconds.”
‘Who we are’
While the Vikings defense remains one of the NFL’s best in preventing points, a three-game skid has put the brakes on any crowning ceremonies.
“I know everybody was acting like we were the ’85 Bears for a while, but that’s not who we are,” Zimmer said. “We’re a pretty solid defensive team that typically doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. … But we’re not going to be the greatest thing on turf. We just go about trying to do our job. That’s what’s made us good.”