The Vikings' 12th-ranked offense had many high moments under first-year coordinator Klint Kubiak, including a nearly 600-yard day in a 34-28 overtime victory at Carolina, but a losing season has left Kubiak lamenting the low points and the inconsistency.
"It's something that we could have done a lot better job of this year," Kubiak said Thursday via videoconference. "Being more consistent, sustaining drives, being a better third-down team. That's the most important that sticks out — being better on third downs."
The offense enters Sunday's season finale against the Bears tied for 27th in third-down conversions at 35.4%, representing some situational lapses when they fell apart in game-ending spots such as Dalvin Cook's overtime fumble in a 27-24 loss in Cincinnati, or Kirk Cousins falling short in losses to Dallas (20-16) and Cleveland (14-7). Receiver Justin Jefferson said the team underachieved.
"We should be in the playoffs right now," he said. "We should have one of the best records in the league. We only shot ourselves in the foot."
Needing a win to keep playoff hopes alive last Sunday against Green Bay, coach Mike Zimmer revealed at least a couple times in which he and Kubiak weren't on the same page about play calls, including once when Zimmer said Kubiak couldn't hear him on the headset. Kubiak said Zimmer's influence has been strong this season.
"What I love about Coach Zimmer is that he's always going to tell you exactly what he wants, and he's not going to sugarcoat it," Kubiak said, "and I really appreciate that."
"Gameday has been really good, too," he added. "There was maybe one game where I had my hand on the button and couldn't hear what he was saying, but other than that, it's been really clear. It's been really positive communication between he and I. He always lets me know where I stand and directs us."
Kubiak and his fellow coordinators say they're focused on the Bears. Co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer, the head coach's son, was asked Thursday about the speculation regarding a coaching change after Sunday's game.
"We're going to fight and work here as long as they tell us we can," Zimmer said. "This is one of the best years he's been as a head coach, because he's really involved in helping the offense, watching the tape with them, so I can't speculate on what the future is. I just come in here every day and try to get this football team better."
Thin at cornerback
The Vikings were down to five cornerbacks at Thursday's practice, including only three — Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander and Cameron Dantzler — on the active roster. Tye Smith and Bryan Mills, who was signed this week, are on the practice squad. But Kris Boyd (ribs) didn't practice, nor did Harrison Hand, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the third time this season. Nose tackle Michael Pierce (illness) also remained sidelined.
Two of three starters available, Dantzler (calf) and Alexander (ankle), remain limited.
"Definitely a little thin right now," Peterson said after practice. "I think we have enough. Cam had a pretty good practice [Thursday], obviously Kris wasn't out there, Harrison Hand had COVID, so hopefully we'll be able to get him back. So, it's been a little weird. But I think the guys who we have, me and Cam, should have enough to get through the game."
Center Garrett Bradbury said being benched in the middle of his third NFL season was a "pretty good wake-up call." He'll make his sixth consecutive start Sunday against the Bears since returning after Mason Cole's season-ending elbow injury. Afterward will come the offseason, which he doesn't want to take for granted entering what is currently the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. As a 2019 first-round pick, Bradbury has a fifth-year option with the deadline approaching this spring.
"Kind of reminding you that the NFL, it's not going to be there forever," Bradbury said. "Nothing's guaranteed. So, I'm going to take that and all that motivation and that attitude and run with it this offseason — and do everything I can to be a better player next year."
$1 million donated to social justice causes
The Vikings' social justice committee announced another $1 million in donations on Thursday toward six groups: Lights On!, TurnSignl, Be The Change Scholarship, Classroom Champions, Little Earth Community and All Square. In a statement, the team said its goal is to support "reducing socioeconomic disparities; expanding the adoption of educational curriculum on racial equality and Black history; and advocating for law enforcement reform and criminal justice reform."
Since the Vikings' social justice committee was formed in 2018, the team and the Wilf family have donated $6.5 million.
Jefferson has shot at team record
Jefferson said he's upset about the collective underachievement, but he's positioned to possibly overtake Randy Moss for another Vikings record. He needs 124 yards against Chicago to overtake Moss' single-season record of 1,632 yards in 2003. But Jefferson will be playing his 17th game on Sunday; Moss only got 16 games.
"It's not fair to the guys that only had 16 games," Jefferson said. "I got a little extra chance to get it. It's definitely an honor to be in this position."