The Vikings’ matchup with the Lions on Thanksgiving Day is one of the bigger regular-season games in recent team history, with the winner gaining a very strong grip on the NFC North with just five games remaining. Coach Mike Zimmer, who is trying for back-to-back playoff appearances, said after the win over Arizona on Sunday that the team needed to be in the right mind-set heading into Detroit.
“It feels really good [to end a four-game losing streak], and unfortunately we only get about 10 minutes to enjoy it because we have to get back to work on Detroit,” he said. “But it’s a credit to our team the way they fought through the adversities the last four weeks. You know, there was a lot of negativity going on, and it was important that we kept believing in what we can do and go out and win. We needed to get a win so bad to get success going.”
Usually in the NFL when a team plays a Thursday game, like the Vikings will after just three days of rest, it gets 10 days off. But that isn’t the case for the Vikings, who will face Detroit and then the Cowboys, the best team in the NFC, seven days later on Thursday night.
“The short week is going to be tough, and it’s unusual, because after Detroit, we have another Thursday game,” Zimmer said. “So the schedule-makers didn’t do us any favors — but it’s just the way it is.”
Zimmer said the Vikings know that they’re going to get a close game with the Lions.
“Every one of their games they’ve played has been [decided by] seven points or less,” he said. “So I think they’ve done a great job at the end of ballgames — including the one that we played. I believe that their offensive line, they’ve got two young guys in there that are playing well. I think they’re being very well-coached, which is helping [quarterback Matt] Stafford play really well.
“Defensively, they’ve been solid with the things they do. Their secondary has been pretty solid for the most part. I think the biggest thing is that, once you start winning, you develop confidence. That’s what they’ve done at the end of ballgames.”
In a season that has had a lot of ups and downs, the Vikings have a chance to get on a big streak heading into the end of the season, but it won’t be easy at Detroit. They are 2½-point underdogs at Detroit for the first time in years.
Badgers turn rivalry
It’s amazing to think that in 1994 the Gophers led the all-time series with the Badgers 57-39-8. There were gigantic winning streaks for the Gophers in the early years from 1926 to 1949, when the Gophers won 20 of 24 games.
Before Wisconsin took control of the series, the Gophers had great success in the late ’80s and early ’90s under Lou Holtz, John Gutekunst and Jim Wacker, when they won nine out of 12 games between 1984 and 1994. Holtz won at Wisconsin in 1984 against a team with first-round pick Al Toon and 10 other NFL draft picks that year. On Thursday of the week of the game, Holtz had called me to the middle of the practice field and told me a defensive tackle, who I thought was just an ordinary player, would make 13 tackles in the defense that Holtz was deploying. That tackle was Doug Mueller; he ended up with 12.
But now Wisconsin has taken charge, winning 20 of the past 23 contests, including 12 in a row. The Badgers are one of the most consistent teams in the nation, and the Gophers have struggled to keep up.
This weekend is going to be a huge matchup in the series, and the Wisconsin State Journal wrote it might be bigger for Wisconsin because winning would give it a chance to go to the Big Ten Championship and maybe reach the College Football Playoff.
The one way the Gophers could have a shot is if Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith have huge games rushing the ball. However, Wisconsin is No. 1 in the Big Ten against the run, allowing just 98.3 yards per game.
And if you want to know one of the best ways to make sure coach Tracy Claeys gets a contract extension? Win at Wisconsin and it’s a done deal.
• Internet sources are reporting that Adrian Peterson is running after having knee surgery and could be ready for action if the Vikings get in the playoffs, but no sooner. ... Look for ex-Vikings kicker Blair Walsh to find a job, at least for next season. My feeling is that Zimmer would not have released him if Walsh’s failures hadn’t come during the losing streak. Walsh is a class act who will find a job kicking for somebody.
• The Twins have the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft, and the top high school prospect, according to Baseball America, is righthanded pitcher Hunter Greene of Sherman Oaks, Calif. Baseball America wrote this week that Greene is more polished as a pitcher, hitting upwards of 98 miles per hour. “Greene’s athleticism on the mound earns legendary comparisons,” the article read. “His high-waisted body evokes Dwight Gooden comparisons. Greene maintains balance after a high knee lift and explosive stride out front. He throws from a slightly lower three-quarters arm slot and repeats his delivery well. He’ll need to continue building consistency as he progresses toward the majors, but his ceiling on the mound is as high as any pitcher in the 2017 class, high school or college.” Another plus? He won’t turn 18 until August.
• Lions coach Jim Caldwell talked recently about the high stress that several NFL coaches are under. Caldwell recalled some advice from former Gophers and Vikings assistant coach Tom Moore. “One of the things that Moore would always say about coaching was that he said you never leave the game the same. Because of the pressure, because of the intensity, because of the scrutiny, because of the second-guessing. All the things that go along with our sport, and the drive to win. The insecurity of the jobs and things of that nature. All those things can take a toll on you.”
• Stafford on never feeling like he’s out of a game. “First time I got into this league, I think it was Coach Scott Linehan told me, he was like, ‘You can lose a game with one terrible quarter and you can win a game with one great quarter.’ You don’t always want it to be that way. You don’t want to have to rely on playing fantastic in a certain quarter to get the job done. I do, with the team that we have, never feel like we’re out of a game.”
• The Gophers and Northwestern are talking about the Wildcats hosting a future football game at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com