In my last post, I looked at some of Mike Zimmer's best moments as a tough, defensive-minded head coach. But he was set adrift for a reason, of course. So, here are the moments that I feel "showcased" the worst of Zim at the helm of the Minnesota Vikings...
1st Down--12/18/16 vs. Colts & 12/24/16 vs. Packers: Despite losing Teddy Bridgewater to a freak knee injury and seeing an offensive lineman get hurt seemingly every week, Zimmer had the '16 squad in the playoff hunt into December. At 7-6, they were very much alive and needed a home victory against a middling Colts unit. Well, after the first quarter it was 10-0 Indy, and 27-0 at the half en route to a 34-6 drubbing.
The next week--Christmas Eve in Lambeau--the Vikes were clinging to a playoff thread. To start that game, the defense was repeatedly gashed by star Packer WR Jordy Nelson. I mean over, and over, and over again. It came to light in postgame interviews that the MN cornerbacks "went rogue" to start the game and refused to execute the assignments Zimmer had drawn up for them. This was perhaps the first inkling--at least for me--that Zim had some major issues with player management.
2nd Down--1/14/18 vs. Saints (2nd half) & 1/21/18 vs. Eagles: In the first half of their Divisional Round playoff matchup with New Orleans, the Vikings looked unstoppable, building a 17-0 lead and utterly silencing Sean Payton's explosive Saints offense. But after the trip to the locker room, it was as if a different Vikings team emerged. Not only did Zimmer's vaunted defense give up the ghost and let Brees' bunch back into the game, but even allowed them to take a late lead that looked insurmountable. It took a literal miracle to pull out the victory.
That same second-half defensive showed up in Philly for the NFC Championship game, getting slaughtered 38-7 by Nick Folks, of all QB's. As inexplicable as it seems, there is strong case to be made that Zimmer's top-flight defensive reign mysteriously ended at halftime of that Miracle game. It was never quite the same going forward.
3rd Down--12/25/20 vs. Saints: The 2020 Vikings were kind of a mess. After starting 1-5, they pulled themselves back to brief "in the hunt" status, only to drop consecutive December contests to fall behind the NFC pack again. Despite a defense that looked like a shell of its former greatness, Zimmer was as defiant and hard-headed as ever--at one point even proclaiming "I've never coached a bad defense". That statement was definitively disproven on Christmas Day in New Orleans, when Alvin Kamara ran roughshod over the Purple D. An embarrassment in front of a national audience. This should have been the first clue that Zim had lost his touch as defensive play-caller.
4th Down--12/5/21 vs. Lions: Despite a middling 5-6 record, this year's Vikings were very much in contention for a wild card postseason berth heading to Detroit for a battle with the 0-10-1 Lions. The offense put up a respectable 27 points, and the endgame saw the Kitties deep in their own territory with just minutes to go. But Jared Goff (yes, Jared Goff) put together a long drive--helped by the loosest, most "prevent" defense I think I had ever seen Zimmer dial up in a big spot. The drive of course culminated in a time-expiring TD pass, where defender Cameron Dantzler was playing unconscionably far off the ball with the entire end zone at his back. Sure, Zimmer may have followed this debacle with two consecutive victories, but this was the moment I knew--beyond a shadow of a doubt--that Zimmer had wholly lost his touch as an NFL coach.