I'm having a sense of déjà vu.
Back in 2010 when I started writing for the Daily Norseman the Minnesota Vikings were a team full of high expectations. Led by veteran quarterback Brett Favre in 2009, the team had come heartbreakingly close to the Super Bowl. But when the Vikings convinced Favre to come back again in 2010 with the belief that they could recapture the magic from the season before, it didn't work.
During an event for bloggers hosted at Winter Park following that strange and catastrophic season, the Vikings' public relations people told us that they set an organizational record for press conferences in 2010. Just a sampling of the 2010 craziness includes the return and hasty exit of Randy Moss, the scandal of Favre sending dick pictures, Childress losing the locker room and being fired after Minnesota lost at home to the Packers, the Metrodome collapse, and the team having to play on Tuesday night in Philadelphia because of a snow delay.
So far [pausing to knock on wood], the 2016 Vikings aren't going to challenge the 2010 team for bizarreness. No, what has me feeling that old 2010 feeling is that sense of promise gradually disappearing. Like the fanbase is going through the grief stages.
When Teddy Bridgewater was lost to a catastrophic knee injury, we were in disbelief. When the team acquired Sam Bradford, we started bargaining. When Bradford wasn't protected by the offensive line and Norv Turner kept having him drop back for long-developing routes, we were angry. When Blair Walsh kept missing extra points but didn't get replaced, we were depressed. When Mike Zimmer lost his post-loss fire, we accepted.
I hate acceptance.
I think this supportive version of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is the most depressing development this season. When Zimmer used to take the podium all pissed off and fiery after a loss, it used to give me hope. "Zim is not going to let this stand," I would think. "He's going to whip them into shape."
And, for his first two seasons in Minnesota, Zimmer did just that.
Zimmer created a culture of accountability. He was the boss, it was his players job to do what he told them to do and to do it well. If they didn't like it, they could hit the bricks. When he laid down the law with Adrian Peterson in spring 2015 and said, "He's really got two choices: He can play for us. Or he cannot play," fans applauded the tough stance. It was part of who Zimmer was, that no-nonsense coach who wasn't going to alter his plans, or his words, to make a diva player happy. Zim was a little like the second-coming of Bud Grant.
That awful day when news broke over Twitter about Bridgewater's knee dislocation and how dire the situation had been, we saw a different side of the feisty Zimmer, but, in its own way, just as strong. Addressing the media just a few hours after the injury that not only ended Bridgewater's season but could have ended his life, Zimmer was as candid as the situation allowed, but he was also tender and hopeful. Reminding media, fans, and players alike that the sun would still rise and the season wouldn't stop.
During the first five weeks of the season when the Vikings went undefeated, it looked like the organization was right that Minnesota could still have a great season and make a deep playoff run despite losing Bridgewater. The dominant defense complemented an offense that was trying to get its bearings under Sam Bradford. And, for awhile, it worked. At times, it was a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, despite the team's success in the first five weeks, there were fundamental flaws that made that success difficult to maintain. After the bye week those flaws were put on display as the Vikings fell first from perfection, then from dominance, then from effectiveness, and finally, with their fourth loss, possibly from relevance in 2016 altogether.
When the Vikings lost to the Philadelphia Eagles I wrote, "An embarrassing loss could be the motivational gift that keeps on giving for Mike Zimmer." It could have been, but it wasn't.
His team lost three more games and an offensive coordinator and, instead of fiery, red-faced Zim, we have Mild-Mannered Mike. Mike talks about the positives in the losses, compliments his team's fight, and speaks in almost a whisper. It is dangerously similar to what we got from Leslie Frazier in 2013.
Zimmer was most in his element when he was coaching a group of young, largely untried players (and a few veterans) who were at the bottom of the NFL looking to prove themselves. During training camp veteran cornerback Terence Newman said that, before Zimmer took over as head coach, players in the league didn't want to play for Minnesota. Over the course of Zimmer's first two seasons as head coach he took his team within sight of the top. They hadn't arrived yet, but success felt imminent.
This four-game skid in 2016 has seen them fall back within view of where they started. However, now, unlike when they started, they have had a taste of success and dominance and what it feels like to be the beast on the schedule that other teams don't want to face. That's probably what makes this slide so gloomy, that sense of what might have, could have, and should have been.
We have blamed injuries, offensive coordinators, and kickers for the Vikings' problems, but, when even Zimmer's once-vaunted defense is struggling and looking average, some of the scrutiny (and blame) needs to be on the coach. After all, he’s the one who created a culture of accountability, he shouldn’t be excluded from it just because we like him.
Sure Zimmer focuses on the defensive side of the ball, but he's in charge of the whole team. And, despite that extension he received before the season started, he's just as expendable to the organization as former offensive coordinator Norv Turner if the team doesn't start winning again.
This losing streak will require Zimmer to shake off the Mild-Mannered Mike persona. I get that he's dealing with touchy millenials who liken having their feelings hurt to human rights violations in Kosovo, but we need Zim back. We need the guy who believed it was the players' job to make him happy, that they should wrap tackles all the time, that they needed to stay on assignments and not free-lance. Being mild, supportive, and positive hasn't worked. His players don't need an understanding pal--they need a strong leader who won't let them give up.
Mild-Mannered Mike needs to go on injured reserve. It is time for Zim to step up. Isn't "next man up" supposed to be the mantra for the 2016 Vikings anyway?