Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes apologized to “the organization, my team, my family” for a sideline outburst in Seattle on Monday night after he gave up a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the team’s loss to the Seahawks, saying he needed to treat coach Mike Zimmer more respectfully.
“I apologize definitely to Coach Zim. The things he’s taught me, I should never react that way toward him or toward my team, period,” Rhodes said. “I know my role, I need to play it better. I need to play better out on that field, eliminate the penalties and just do well.”
Rhodes said the touchdown, on which he appeared to be expecting safety help with Seahawks receiver David Moore, was “100% my fault, no one else.” He would not discuss what was supposed to happen on the play, where he turned and trailed Moore while Harrison Smith covered a running back from his position near the line of scrimmage.
After the play, Rhodes had a heated back-and-forth with Zimmer, threw his helmet on the ground, knocked a water bottle out of an equipment assistant’s hand and dismissed linebacker Anthony Barr with a light shove after Barr appeared to be trying to explain what happened to Rhodes. He said he had not talked with Zimmer about the episode, and added he hadn’t seen a fine in his locker for what happened.
Named a Pro Bowler in 2016 and a first-team All-Pro in 2017, Rhodes struggled through an injury-plagued 2018 season and has been on the wrong end of penalties and big plays in 2019. He’s been flagged 10 times (with eight of those penalties accepted for 139 yards) and has allowed four touchdowns, his most since 2015.
Zimmer, who made headlines in March when he said at the NFL owners’ meetings that Rhodes needs to live up to his six-year, $78.13 million contract, said Wednesday he wouldn’t evaluate players in the media.
“Xavier’s a good kid. We’ve always had our little moments, I guess you’d call it, but at the end of the day, he knows I’m always trying to do what’s best for him,” Zimmer said. “He’s always trying to do what’s best for me. I have a ton of respect for him, not just him, every player. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do. He tries to do it. He’s a good kid. He’s got a smile on his face all the time, comes out to practice and works hard. Yeah, I have a ton of respect for him.”
Rhodes has attracted an outsized share of attention for his play, but the Vikings’ defense as a whole has gone through an uncharacteristic slump in 2019. The Vikings have allowed 45 plays of 20 yards or more this season, which is still tied for the 13th fewest in the league, but represents a drop for a defense that was tied for the fourth fewest in 2018, tied for the fewest in 2017 and ranked third in 2016.
“I know my role, I need to play it better. I need to play better out on that field, eliminate the penalties and just do well.”
After ranking third, first and fourth in points allowed the past three seasons, the Vikings are 16th this season. That’s the worst ranking of Zimmer’s tenure, and after five seasons of ranking in the top 12 in passing yards allowed — including in the top three from 2016-18 — the Vikings are 20th this year.
The 218 yards the Vikings gave up on the ground to the Seahawks were the second most they’ve allowed under Zimmer, behind only the 230 they gave up in the 2015 opener against San Francisco.
“For us to have the ball run on us like that was kind of a misnomer, it hasn’t been like that in quite a while,” Zimmer said.
“We got to do a better job, really, all the way around. Perimeter run force, being in the right place, being in the right gaps, being more disciplined. We probably panicked a little bit the other night.”
Later, he added: “I’m not saying panic. Sometimes when things aren’t going exactly how you would expect them to go, they start doing things on their own. ‘OK, I’m going to go make this play. Even though the block tells me to do this, I’m going to go do this.’ That’s kind of what we did, and it happens from time to time. We just got to get back and get settled in and get back to work.”
For his part, Rhodes hopes a change in his play is coming soon.
“I just feel like, it’s just a switch,” he said.
“I’ve been working my tail off, I always work my tail off. Everyone knows that on this team, family, friends, you all see it on my workouts that I post. I workout each and every day on my craft. I don’t know. I’m there in coverage, I’m just not getting there or getting the ball out. But I’m a fighter. At the end of the day, that switch is going to flip. And once it happens, it’s going to happen. But right now I’m going to continue to play my ball, work on the mental errors I’m doing. And the penalties, just continue to work on those things and hopefully the switch will flip.”