The home locker room at TCF Bank Stadium was surprisingly somber immediately after Sunday’s 30-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, with voices hushed and eyes fixated on the floor.
Sure, the Vikings had just squandered an opportunity to make a stand against their recent tormentors and seize control of the NFC North in late November. But the mood in the room had the feel of an overtime loss in the middle of January.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had no qualms with the players who were still stewing Monday. And if anyone wanted to frown through Tuesday’s off day, well, Zimmer was fine with that, too.
But he made it clear he wanted the Vikings to put the loss behind them before walking back in the doors of Winter Park on Wednesday.
“They better be smiling because [it will be] time to get going,” Zimmer said. “The biggest mistake that we make is that we let that loss become more than one. You get beat once, shame on us. But two of them, then it’s shame on me.”
The last time the Vikings were in a position like this was after the season opener, when they were being hyped as a popular preseason pick to make the playoffs and then got humbled by a San Francisco 49ers team that has since won only two games.
The Vikings responded by winning their next two games and seven of eight.
That run raised their national profile, enough that Fox Sports protected Sunday’s game from being flexed into prime time and made it its national game of the week, meaning that there were still millions of eyes watching to see how Zimmer’s young team, alone in first place entering the game, had grown since Week 1.
The Vikings gave them few signs of progress, but plenty of penalties, miscues and blown assignments as they fell to 1-10-1 against their border rivals since 2010.
“You’ve got to learn how to handle your emotions in big-game situations and you’ve got to be able to play just the way you played all season,” outside linebacker Anthony Barr said. “You can’t change anything. … You have to stay true to who you are and I think we got away from ourselves a little bit [Sunday].”
That’s why Zimmer stressed to his players Monday that the 7-3 Vikings are still in control of their season. There are six games left on the schedule, including a pretty significant one at Green Bay closing out the regular season on Jan. 3, for them to earn a playoff berth or maybe more.
“I don’t know why people are acting like we lost 10 games in a row or something,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “It’s one game and we didn’t play the best that we could and they made plays. So we’ll just get back to the drawing board and work and focus on Atlanta.”
The fading Falcons have lost three consecutive games after starting the season 5-0.
But then again, the Packers had lost three in a row before Sunday’s beatdown.
“They had their backs against the wall with three straight loses and you knew we were going to get their best shot and we didn’t give them ours,” kicker Blair Walsh said of the 7-3 Packers. “That was the most disappointing thing.”
The Packers took away what the Vikings do best, slowing down running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher, and neutralizing their pass rush, which has been fearsome at home.
The Vikings complicated matters by allowing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to complete critical throws from outside of the pocket and by surrendering 100 rushing yards to running back Eddie Lacy on 22 carries. The Vikings also were penalized eight times for a season-high 110 yards.
“I don’t think we’re too concerned with the [legitimacy of the] penalties,” Barr said. “I think we’re more concerned with the way we played. And I know we can play better. There were a lot of uncharacteristic things with this team and we’ll get those corrected.”
The Vikings will start trying to make those corrections Wednesday, when the practice week starts up. Monday was for sulking, something that Zimmer doesn’t necessarily mind.
“Their mood was down as probably it should be, but the good thing about that is they care. If they didn’t care, they’d come in here laughing and joking,” Zimmer said. “I’ve been around teams like that, too, and this team cares, so it’s important to them. But as I told them, it’s OK to be upset today.”