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Did the Vikings Mentally 'Check Out' Against The Packers?

Brian Robison says he thinks so

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Human nature is a funny thing. No matter how much fame or fortune you might...or might not...have, different things motivate people. What motivates me you might find ridiculous, and something that inspires you I might think foolish. And it seems easy to say that professional football players, the best on the planet at what they do, shouldn't need to be motivated by something other than their paycheck, or the prestige of playing in the NFL.

And for us, the sideline sitters, the folks in the stands that essentially pay the salaries for professional athletes, it's easy to say 'man, if I got paid like that and was a starter in the NFL, I wouldn't need any extra motivation.'

But life isn't that simple. Human beings need a reason to do what they do, and when you put the physical well being of your body on the line, you have to have a goal, something worth fighting for, something tangible. It's easy to say they're playing to win the division, go to the playoffs, and maybe even the Super Bowl. That's all well and good, but in the short term, in the face of adversity, you need something to get you from where you are to where you want to go.

What is that something? Faith in something bigger than yourself, maybe. Confidence in the people around you, probably. A belief that when you take the field there is no doubt in your mind you're going to win, or at least have as good of a shot as the next guy, definitely.

The Vikings were lacking that last Thursday night against Green Bay.

Now, just so we're all on the same page here--I don't think the Vikings quit. Nor do I think the Vikings weren't trying. That happened in the infamous 2000 NFC Championship 41-doughnut game. In that game, receivers quit running routes, defensive linemen just grabbed their counterparts and stopped moving--it was the ugliest lay down of a team I had ever witnessed. But whatever the motivation is that this team needs to will themselves to success simply wasn't there last Thursday, from fairly early on, for whatever reason.

There were a couple of things that struck me watching the Vikings game last Thursday, and the main one was that the Vikings, as a team, had checked out mentally about the second quarter. I briefly talked about it in the SMR, but put them away, thinking I might have been a bit harsh.

Then Brian Robison mentioned it and said he thought so. It was addressed by Mike Zimmer in his press conference, too, after he was asked about it. He said he didn't think so.

Hmmm. As I was going through the saved programs on my DVR yesterday, I noticed I hadn't yet deleted the Packers game, so I wanted to see if I was off on my original thought about whether or not the Vikings had checked out. So I watched part of that game again to see what the deal was.

So, are the two seemingly incompatible statements between Robison and Zimmer saying the same thing? Maybe it's word parsing, but let's see what Robison said:

The mood was almost like some people had checked out, and you know what I'm just going to be blunt and say it: It can never be that way. This is the team I've felt like, all along, has fought and scratched no matter what type of adversity we have faced, and I felt like we didn't have that.

In his press conference, Zimmer was asked, in response to Robison's statement, if he thought Robison was right. But the way the question was asked wasn't really what Robison had been driving at:

Q--Brian Robison was outspoken about some of the player's efforts after you got behind in the game, did you see that?

Again, I don't think Robison questioned the effort or whether or not guys had quit. He didn't say that, at all. He was questioning whether or not they were in the game mentally, and that's a fair question to ask. To me, there's a difference. Anyway, this is what Zimmer said in response:

I respect Brian's opinion, but when I watched the tape I didn't see that, no. I looked for it hard. I looked at the offensive tape. I looked if the receivers were running hard. I looked at the special teams, if we were going hard. Defensively, I think what he's talking about was more of a, lost the fire, maybe a little bit. I don't think that there was any non-trying.

Yeah, lost the fire. That's a good way to put it. Over the weekend Robison took to Twitter and clarified his original quote:

I'm not on the team, obviously...and for that, we can all be eternally grateful. But I've been on teams and in units where a lot of the team members aren't mentally in it, for whatever reason, and you can sense when you're going through the motions just so you can go home, or whatever. Heck, even before the game started, Robison was mic'd up, and he gathered the defense around him and told them "it's on us tonight", meaning it was going to be on the defense to win the game.

He was right, and everyone on the team knew it. Heck, everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knew it. There was no way in the world the Vikings were going to be able to get in to a shootout with Green Bay and expect to win the game. So when the Vikings gave up two quick touchdowns and went down 14-0, a feeling of 'uh oh' came over every Vikings fan watching that game. It happened to me and my Dad, it happened to you, and it happened in every place where there was a TV tuned to the game, I would imagine.

And it happened to the Minnesota Vikings.