Reasons for Vikings 2017 Success: A Forgetful 2016

A large factor in the Minnesota Vikings’ 2017 success might be what they’ve learned from a disastrous 2016.

Watching the Vikings in 2016 was like watching the Metrodome roof collapse of 2010. The loss of Teddy Bridgewater, victim of a catastrophic knee injury a week before the season, took the air out of a team that had Super Bowl aspirations heading into the new year.

It originally appeared as if the Vikings would hold up despite the crushing weight of losing their leader and ascending franchise quarterback. A surprising trade for then-Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford eight days before the first game kept hope alive despite holes poking through Minnesota’s armor.

The Vikings lost both their starting left tackle and a future Hall of Fame running back to season-ending injuries after a Week 2 win against the Green Bay Packers. Less than a month later, the other starting tackle was lost for the season. Still, the team began the year 5-0 and avoided major collapse.

Then, after an unexpected turn of events, the team faltered and the roof began to cave in. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned suddenly in November amid a shroud of mystery, leaving Vikings fans scratching their heads — even to this day. Pat Shurmur, the tight ends coach at the time, took over Turner’s role.

After losing backup tackle Jake Long for the season, the team simply buckled under the pressure. What followed was a total breach, as the Vikings finished the year with a 3-8 record and missed the playoffs. To add to the misery, star defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd suffered an unfortunate mishap in a routine September surgery. It’s recently been reported his career is likely over.

In short, 2016 was an odd and destructive year for the Vikings.

2017 Impact

The man who led the team during the rough stretch, and who was directly affected by the flat-out weird year, was Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Zimmer, who had multiple eye surgeries during the 2016 season, addressed the issues today.

“Maybe it’s good we went through some of those issues that we had last year,” Zimmer said during Friday’s press conference. “I think it’s a lot of the players themselves, they’re pretty tough-minded guys.”

Under Zimmer’s tutelage, the players have thrived in 2017. The 9-2 Vikings are the only NFL team with a top-5 offense and defense. There are multiple players on both sides of the ball that have a great chance of making the Pro Bowl, including a career journeyman quarterback who has recently entered the MVP discussion.

Zimmer has said multiple times this season how much he loves this team.

“We’ve got a pretty resilient bunch. They play hard together… They just like to go out and play,” the coach said.

With a three game lead in the division and five games to play, the Vikings are in a much better position than last year to end the season on a positive note. They now possess a much more sturdy ceiling, one they plan on playing under come February.

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Sean Borman

Sean Borman is a writer with Minnesota roots that's still somehow an optimist. He was an intern with the Vikings during college and previously wrote for Rant Sports. You can find Sean on the golf course and on Twitter @SeanBoarMan.

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  1. “quarterback who has recently entered the MVP discussion”

    At some point, even the die hard Bridgewater fans are going to have to acknowledge that Keenum is now the franchise quarterback. The Browns always need a quarterback, so Bridgewater will have options if he chooses to not sign as the Vikings backup quarterback for 2018.

    1. As Matthew Coler has documented elsewhere, Keenum has had runs like this twice before in his career and each time came crashing down to earth. That may not happen this time, but I want to see a larger body of work from him before I declare him a “franchise” quarterback and pay him the kind of salary that franchise QB’s get. The biggest mistake that Dennis Green ever made was re-signing Randall Cunningham to a big-money, long-term contract after the 1998 season; Cunningham collapsed in 1999 and we were stuck with his contract hanging around our neck for years. Another warning that we might consider is Josh McCown and the contract Tampa Bay gave him after his superb five-game run with Chicago in 2013.

      Perhaps the best move that Spielman could make after the season, assuming Keenum continues playing at this level, would be to re-sign both Keenum and Bridgewater and let them compete for the job. We’d have an experienced back-up in either case, which is a better scenario than re-signing just one of them and expecting Sloter or some draft pick to be the number two QB on a Super Bowl contender. At this point, and assuming Keenum doesn’t fade, we probably won’t be able to do that because Keenum would expect to get get an unobstructed shot at a starting job someplace else, but I don’t want to be the team throwing all of my eggs in his basket. That scenario changes if he does fade and Teddy is brought off the bench and has some success this year, or if either one of them takes us deep into the playoffs. But it’s too soon now to make any commitments to either one of them.

      1. If they re-sign both Keenum and Bridgewater, those contracts will need to reflect who is who in the quarterback hierarchy.

        Keenum is the starting quarterback of this team, and that will command a starter level contract.

        Bridgewater spent (less than) 2 mediocre seasons as a starter, 1.5 seasons on the injured list after his leg randomly fell off one day, and is now riding pine behind someone the Vikings signed to a 1 year, $2 million contract. The only thing Bridgewater has accomplished this year is beating out Sloter. That is the kind of resume which commands a backup contract in this league.

        “Keenum and Bridgewater and let them compete for the job”

        That is the reality of every roster spot on the Vikings. The only question is whether Bridgewater has the capacity to check his ego, sign with the Vikings, and earn more than he has up to this point.

        For reference, Bridgewater has never beaten out anyone to be the starter in the NFL. In his first season, he was beaten out by Matt Cassel, and only got the job after Cassel was injured. He was gifted the job in his second year, in very Ponderesque fashion. In fact, he is starting to look a lot like Ponder 2.0. For all the GUMP chatter, the guy just doesn’t seem capable of being able to stand and deliver. Bridgewater is timid, and has the heart of a lapdog.

        1. Geez dude… your hatred of Bridgewater overrides any other point your trying to make.

          1. Geez dude, your blatant love of substandard football players is legendary.

            I in no way feel compelled to pretend that Bridgewater is a good NFL quarterback. He is not. Pointing out his deficiencies is not a bad thing, even when it triggers emotionally fragile people like you.

            It don’t hate Bridgewater. He is just a football player. What I do hate is the cult like belief in him which has crept into the Vikings fan base since he arrived. I have never seen so many people with so little football knowledge constantly bray over how much they love him. Given how he actually plays, it is a sickening spectacle to watch.

            How bad is it? One of my guilty pleasures in life is reading Acme Packing Company when the Packers are in trouble. (If you go over there now, bring your raincoat and boots, because the salty tears are deep.) The problem is that it is hard to find the time to read Acme Packing Company recently, because the salty tears of grief of the Bridgewater fans on Viking sites take too long to wade through.

            The Vikings are 9-2, and all the Bridgewater fans can do is complain that their lil’ Teddy has to sit on the pine. They can’t even enjoy a great Viking season, and they feel the need to destroy the ability of Viking fans to enjoy a great Viking season.

            I will say it flat out, there are 2 groups of fans: Vikings fans and Bridgewater fans. At this point, you can’t be both. If you think you are, you are just lying to yourself. I just wish the Bridgewater fans would start ILoveTeddy.com, and stop puking all over Viking sites.

            1. I don’t care who the QB is as long as they’re winning. I’ve been a die hard fan since 75′. Teddy is a proven winner in college and in the NFL… right now Case is winning, he is better than Teddy right now. In 5 years? TB should surpass what CK is right now… and most likely what Keenum will be in 5 years.
              You need to look past these crazy Teddy fans. There are plenty Teddy AND Viking fans. And most of them are super happy about Case being the starter. Their are a few that are bummed about Bridgewater being 2nd team… there are some that think Case will crash. Either way… which is worse? The Teddy fans or the guy who hates them? Step back, think a little. Most of the level headed Viking fans I relate with want to win. It’s ok to disagree. Relax a bit. Respect goes both ways.

        2. “‘…let them compete for the job’

          “That is the reality of every roster spot on the Vikings.”

          No it’s not. Harrison Smith and Everson Griffin are not competing for their jobs every training camp. Stars and established starters (e.g., Kendricks, Elflein, Rudolph and Hunter) in their prime and in good health do not compete for their roster spots. Matt Kalil and Alex Boone did not face competition for their starting jobs prior to the 2016 season, while the other three positions on the OL that off-season were opened up to competition; that the latter was an oft-stated storyline just goes to show how rarely starting positions are competitive. Next season, it will be interesting to see if Harris can force Zimmer to open a competition for Sendejo’s starting spot, and who will be competing to be WR3 next year given Treadwell’s failure to seize the bull by the horns, but honest to God competition for starting spots could conceivably be limited to replacing guys who are likely to retire after this season.

          1. If Harrison Smith or Everson Griffen or anyone else could be beaten out by another player to start, they would start. Zimmer is not Leslie Frazier. Smith or Griffen would not be cut, because the salary cap implications of cutting them would be horrendous.

            All you are asking for is special treatment for Bridgewater, because deep inside you know that he isn’t good enough to beat out Keenum. After all, that is why Keenum is starting now, and Bridgewater is riding the pine. Take your entitlement mentality and place it where it belongs.

            1. Deep inside, I do not believe that Case Keenum is the second coming of Rich Gannon, but as he is having the best run of his career, Bridgewater remains on the bench. Deep inside, I believe that Keenum will revert to his career norm and will have to be benched, and I do not want Kyle Sloter to be the next man up. Deep inside, I believe that Teddy would beat out Case in an open competition during training camp. I ask for no special treatment for Bridgewater, but I have not drunken the Keenum Kool-Aid, which you apparently have.

              Yes, Smith and Griffen would be replaced if someone else beat them out for their jobs, although I have no doubt that Leslie Frazier would bench them just as quickly as Mike Zimmer, who, after all, kept Chad Greenway on the field long after his steep decline had become permanent. But in the real world, not your Ayn Randian fantasy-land, the team is not bringing in free agents or using high draft picks to stage a ritualistic and unnecessary competition for free safety and right defensive end because it has other priorities. Saying that every position is perpetually a competition is just boiler plate sloganeering and does not reflect the actual reality on the ground.

            2. What ccarterhof said: “It’s ok to disagree. Relax a bit. Respect goes both ways.”

            1. I don’t get to see too many games, so is he really not getting separation in coverage, as I’ve been reading, or do you see something else holding him back? Wright seems to have an impact in his few chances, but not LT.

              1. BJ Reidell reviewed all of Keenum’s game film (I’ve seen quite a bit as well) and I agree with his conclusion that Treadwell hasn’t been playing poorly, he just lacks consistent targets. Unfortunately when Keenum looks his way he’s either being blanketed in coverage or Keenum’s throws haven’t been close. The duo has had the most success on comeback routes. Personally I think the lack of targets is the biggest thing holding Treadwell back. He’s not getting a ton of separation but he’s physically very long and he has a huge catch radius so not getting separation isn’t as big of deal for him as it is a smaller wideout.

        3. Mike, you have a good point that contracts DO generally reflect the QB hierarchy, and I don’t think this will be an exception. The rest of the season will likely determine that hierarchy.

          Also, let’s not forget that the team was entirely focused on running the ball when Adrian Peterson was around, hence Bridgewater’s “mediocre” stats. I personally disagree that his play is anything like Ponder’s. His pocket presence alone is miles better and he led the team to a much better winning percentage.

          Ponder’s career record was 14-21-1, Bridgewater’s is currently 17-11.

      2. Couldn’t agree more. Great call on the Cunningham contract — that was before I knew much about the salary cap.

  2. I have been saying all along that this year is our chance at redemption. This is the type of year I expected from 2016, prior to all the “weird” happenings. It is certainly rewarding as a Lifelong Loyal Vikings Fan to have the kind of success I expected, after watching Spielman and Zim put this team together. Some great drafts, acquisitions, and coaching moves along the way. Its been fun. I hope we keep getting better, and keep it rolling. I don’t think we have come close to reaching our potential. Whatever happens this year, I’m going to enjoy the ride. I love my Vikings, and I always will. SKOL

    1. Well stated, Robert. The events of last year were unexpected, but this year is different. After watching a great front office and great coaching staff work their magic, the team is even stronger than before. Plus, like you said the team is performing well but it hasn’t yet reached its potential. We could be witnessing something special. SKOL

  3. I wanted to add that, I don’t give a crap who the starting QB is. I think we can win with any of the guys we have. This is a very well built team, that can support any one of our QB’s. That said, Case has been remarkable. I like his fire, and enthusiasm. Very gritty, and not afraid to take the chances necessary to win big games. But I’ll support whatever decision Coach Zim makes. SKOL

    1. Well said.. Zimmer stated that Teddy has been doing some great things in practice. But Case is playing so well and the offense is kind of his now. I hope Keenum stays in.

  4. Finally a team!… no superstars…no distractions.. no special treatments
    Which means no Adrian Peterson😉
    Go Vikes!!!

    1. The team dynamic is a HUGE reason why this team has been so successful. It all starts with the right mentality, which is why Alex Boone was cut. Great point Rick!

  5. It makes sense for Keenum to remain the starter. It seems to me partisans on both sides of the Keenum vs. Bridgewater debate aren’t being particularly objective. Contrasting Bridgewater’s performance in his first two seasons in the NFL to Keenum’s performance in his fifth season is pointless. If you look at Keenum’s performance in his first two seasons, Bridgewater was vastly superior. If you consider a high passer rating a win, an average passer rating a tie and a bad passer rating a loss, Keenum is 5-4-1 on the year. What counts most for me is that he’s had three good games in a row. Those interceptions at Washington don’t bother me. They could have happened to any QB. Bridgewater has the heart of a lap dog? From the games I watched (pretty much all of them) he seems as much of a warrior as Keenum is. It wouldn’t make sense to start Bridgewater now, but if he does start, I’m pretty sure he’d do right by his team.

    1. All good points. And Keenum’s pocket presence is outstanding. It’s one of Teddy’s attributes as well.. but I doubt he could match Case right now. But if he had to play I think he’d do okay.

      1. Before he was injured Teddy’s pocket presence was perhaps his BEST attribute. Let’s hope he’s still got it. Nobody knows until we see him in game action.

    2. Thanks for the read Ken! Agree with basically all of your points, I just hope Keenum learns from those picks at Washington.

      1. Thanks for the thanks, Sean! I always look forward to reading your articles. I’m one of those first time posters, long time lurkers. I discovered Vikings Territory a couple years ago and am glad I did. As for the picks, after two games, so far so good!

        1. This. This is why Vikings fans are the best in the NFL. Right again Ken. We’re glad to have you as a reader & commenter