How do the Vikings respond in a rematch after a loss?

Zimmer Bounces Back
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

One of Mike Zimmer’s greatest advantages as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach is his relationship with Bill Parcells, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the New York Giants. When Parcells took over as the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach in 2003, he kept Zimmer on board as defensive coordinator. Their close relationship began almost 16 years ago and continues stronger to this day, helping to influence the Vikings’ current winning ways.

After every Vikings game, Parcells texts Zimmer a comment, from words of congratulations to an observation or a question, all meant to help and inspire Zimmer. According to Parcells — per ESPN’s Ben Goessling — Zimmer regards the texts as “treasured gold.” That gold has helped Zimmer take one of the league’s worst defensive teams and turn it into a playoff contender. The Vikings, who host the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs this Sunday, finished the 2015 season as NFC North champions and potential postseason spoilers.

If history is any indication, Zimmer’s 2015 Vikings won’t suffer the same fate as Vikings teams of old. These Vikings are a resilient bunch, cut from the cloth of Bill Parcells himself. “They can’t ever call you a loser again, because we’re winners from now on,” Parcells told Zimmer after the Vikings beat the Chicago Bears and moved to 9-5 on the season. His words of relief and accomplishment echoed the same speech he gave the Cowboys after Dallas won eight games in 2003.

It’s a speech to inspire a team that’s lost badly on the national stage, to motivate a group of players that have little experience playing postseason football. Most of all, it’s a speech to inspire confidence and create the belief that the Vikings can beat the Seahawks this Sunday, no matter the previous results.

Much like Parcells, Zimmer’s road to success hasn’t always been easy. When he inherited the team before the 2014 season, the Vikings fielded the league’s most porous defense. They allowed a league-worst 480 points in 2013 and finished the year as the second-worst team against the pass. In just two short years, he’s transformed the unit, which allowed just 302 points (5th-best) this season and finished just outside the top-10 against the pass.

As a rookie head coach in 1983, Parcells led the Giants to a 3-12-1 record and was nearly fired before the start of the 1984 season. But the Giants believed in Parcells, and their patience was rewarded. He took the team from three wins to nine the next year, then 10, and then 14 before winning his first Super Bowl title in 1986. In eight years with the franchise, he won 127 games, including eight playoff games and two Lombardi trophies. Time will only tell if Zimmer can match those totals, but Parcells believes it’s possible.

“You can have your favorites and have your chalk horses, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to win,” he said on KFAN 100.3-FM Wednesday afternoon. “I’ll be pulling for (Zimmer).”

Zimmer’s seen it all, from Adrian Peterson’s 15-game suspension last season to the loss of key defensive players like Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr this year. The turmoil came to a head against the Seahawks in Week 13, when the injured Vikings were outmatched at home, losing to Seattle 38-7 in front of a stunned crowd. That game changed the attitude of the team, helping them find the motivation to win three of their last four games and secure their first division title since 2009.

Parcells, a veteran with plenty of experience in the postseason, shared more insightful words Wednesday for Zimmer, who will coach his first playoff game on Sunday. “They have to go into this game believing they’re a little different team that the one that was beat by Seattle,” he said, per Vikings.com. “Based on their recent play, I would say that they are a little different.”

How different? According to our own Adam Patrick, very different. Since Zimmer joined the team as head coach in 2014, the Vikings have made the most of second chances:

In 2014, the Vikings went 1-5 against the division, losing every game against the Lions, Packers, and Bears before beating Chicago 13-9 in Week 17. Per Pro Football Reference, the Vikings were generally competitive following their first meetings with divisional opponents:

  • Lost 42-10 at Green Bay in Week 5, Lost 24-21 vs. Green Bay in Week 12
  • Lost 17-3 vs Detroit in Week 6, Lost 16-14 at Detroit in Week 15
  • Lost 21-13 at Chicago in Week 11, Won 13-9 vs. Chicago in Week 17

This season, Zimmer helped the Vikings flip their record, as the team went 5-1 against divisional opponents. While it may be argued they caught the Lions and Bears early in the season,  they finished the year with a 148-115 combined point differential against their three division rivals. Their lone defeat came in Week 11 to the Packers, a 30-13 embarrassment at home. As expected from a Zimmer-led team, the Vikings bounced back in Week 17, dominating Green Bay en route to a 20-13 victory at Lambeau Field; quite the accomplishment for a team that hadn’t won there since 2009.

When the proverbial chips have been down, Zimmer bounces back. Can he and the Vikings find a way to make Sunday’s game against the Seahawks competitive? Recent history suggests the score will be much closer than the analysts think, and Parcells appears to be a believer.

“When they tee it off on Saturday and Sunday, anything can happen,” Parcells said. “This is the tournament; they’re starting over.”