MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The search for the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings is on, but it's worth taking time to reflect on the tenure of the last one.
Mike Zimmer failed to get the Vikings to the promised land, but along the way, he won his fair share of games and delivered plenty of memorable moments. Here are the best and worst games of Zimmer's stint with the Vikings, starting with the lows. Each list is presented chronologically.
Zimmer's Worst Games
Dec. 18, 2016: Colts 34, Vikings 6
This is a candidate for the worst loss of Zimmer's early years as head coach. The offense could not get anything going – Sam Bradford was sacked five times, threw an interception and fumbled, while Adrian Peterson let slip another fumble and managed just 22 yards on six carries before the game got out of hand. Zimmer's defense ranked sixth and third in points allowed this season. It wasn't quite the transcendent defense of 2017, but it was well on its way. The 34-point, zero-turnover performance was the defense's second-worst of the season. This loss dealt a blow to the Vikings' playoff hopes, and signaled one of the most complete failures of a Zimmer-coached team.
Jan. 21, 2018: Vikings 7, Eagles 38
A 31-point loss in the NFC Championship is bad enough on its own, but when it comes a week after one of the most triumphant moments in franchise history, it's especially cutting. After a promising opening drive in which the Vikings marched down the field and right into the end zone, the Eagles completely took over this game. Doug Pederson handily outcoached Zimmer, and one of the best defenses in Vikings history looked totally gassed and outmatched. Forever stamped in Vikings fans' minds, "38-7" marked the absolute low point in Zimmer's tenure. It also spurred the team to sign Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract and started the ticking clock on Zimmer's time in Minnesota.
Sept. 23, 2018: Bills 27, Vikings 6
In retrospect, this loss – just three games into the Cousins era – was an ill portent of things to come. Despite big games from Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, Cousins and the offense struggled to score and turned over the ball three times. On the defensive side of the ball, Zimmer's unit was shellacked by a rookie Josh Allen who was largely unimpressive the rest of the year. Allen scored three touchdowns, including two on the ground. The defense failed to register a turnover and surrendered 128 rushing yards. This loss would be emblematic of so many Vikings losses over the last couple of years of Zimmer's tenure – the offense struggled to put the ball in the end zone, and the once-vaunted defense couldn't hold up when it mattered.
Dec. 30, 2018: Bears 24, Vikings 10
The Bears had already locked up the division by kickoff, and the Vikings just needed a win to make the playoffs. A lackluster effort from both the offense and defense put their postseason hopes in a coffin. The defense failed to sack Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky or record a turnover, and gave up 169 yards and three touchdowns in the run game. Meanwhile, the offense managed 2 net yards on its first four drives, all of which ended in punts, and didn't score until Dan Bailey kicked a 45-yard field goal with less than a minute left in the first half.
Dec. 25, 2020: Vikings 33, Saints 52
This was the most points a Vikings team gave up in Zimmer's eight years as coach. The defense gave up an unthinkable seven rushing touchdowns, six of them to running back Alvin Kamara. The Vikings actually managed to keep this game relatively close until the fourth quarter, when the Saints outscored them 21-7 to put the game away. Zimmer called his 2020 defense the worst he's ever coached, and this game was the prime example of their ineptitude.
Dec. 9, 2021: Steelers 28, Vikings 36
The Vikings actually won this game, but the victory masks the fact the Vikings led 29-0 midway through the third quarter and were still playing for their lives on the final play. After a dominant two-and-a-half quarters of football, the Vikings' defense collapsed, surrendering 28 points in just over 20 minutes of game time. The offense, meanwhile, didn't manage much after halftime save for a 62-yard touchdown to K.J. Osborn that may very well have been the product of uncalled offensive pass interference. It's not unimaginable that if the Vikings had lost this game after leading by 29 points late, Zimmer may not have even lasted until the end of the season.
Zimmer's Best Games
Dec. 27, 2015: Giants 17, Vikings 49
This was the biggest win of Zimmer's career with the Vikings, a wire-to-wire beatdown in which the offense scored on nine of its 14 drives, Harrison Smith added a defensive touchdown and the Vikings earned three turnovers. This win marked the platonic ideal of a football game in Zimmer's mind. A suffocating defense buoyed by a punishing run game. The defense held the Giants to 1-of-11 on third down, and sacked Eli Manning four times. The offense had 218 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Jan. 3, 2016: Vikings 20, Packers 13
The win over the Giants set up a battle for the NFC North title in Green Bay a week later. Both teams were 10-5 heading into the game – the Packers looking for their second straight division title, while the Vikings were hoping to be crowned kings of the north for the first time since 2009. Zimmer's defense, as it did the week before, dominated, holding the Packers to three points through the first three quarters. They sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, picked him off and forced him to fumble. Despite Teddy Bridgewater' sub-100-yard performance, the Vikings walked into Lambeau Field and took hold of the division from the Packers.
Sept. 18, 2016: Packers 14, Vikings 17
This was the first-ever game at the newly built U.S. Bank Stadium, and it was worthy of the honor. A defensive battle from start to finish, with both teams being held under 300 net yards of offense. Sam Bradford was sacked four times, but otherwise played one of his best games as a Viking, tossing two touchdowns and earning a 121.2 passer rating. Rodgers, meanwhile, hit the ground five times. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another. The biggest play of the game was made by Trae Waynes, whom Rodgers had been picking on all night. The young corner looked outmatched for most of the game, but with less than two minutes remaining he jumped in front of a pass intended for Davante Adams, sealing the win for the Vikings and christening their new home with a cacophonous response from the crowd.
Sept. 11, 2017: Saints 19, Vikings 29
This win kicked off one of the best – and, ultimately, most disappointing – Vikings seasons in history. Vikings-Saints games are always particularly heated, and this one followed suit. A solid if not spectacular performance by the defense was far outshined by one of Bradford's career-best performances. He threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, including a beautiful score to a wide-open Diggs. Vikings fans did not yet know how special – or how heartbreaking – this season would turn out, but this was the perfect start to a memorable year.
Jan. 14, 2018: Saints 24, Vikings 29
You knew it was going to be here. The best game of Zimmer's tenure is also among the most memorable in Vikings history. Before we get to the Minneapolis Miracle, though, let's take a second to appreciate the rest of the game.
The first half was one of Zimmer's finest as a defensive coach. Before halftime, the Vikings shut out the Saints, intercepted Drew Brees twice and did not allow a third down conversion. Meanwhile, the offense put up an efficient 17 points to give the Vikings a three-possession lead at the half.
The Saints stormed back in the second half, though, going up 24-23 with just 25 seconds left. Saints coach Sean Payton taunted U.S. Bank Stadium with a SKOL clap and a smile, ready for his return to the NFC Championship game after so many years away.
You know what happened next. Case Keenum tossed a – ahem – miraculous 61-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs, sending the Vikings to the NFC Championship and cementing both players' spots in both fans' hearts and the hallowed halls of Vikings history.
The Vikings fell short of a Lombardi Trophy, as they did every year Zimmer was head coach and for 52 years before that. But for a brief, beautiful moment, Zimmer's Vikings gave fans something that's often in short supply in Minnesota: a reason to cheer.
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