EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Mike Zimmer has brought a demanding style to the Minnesota Vikings.
The past two weeks, they've played with more of his personality. Even the hard-driving head coach let on some satisfaction.
"I think we showed some resiliency there. I think our team grew up a little bit," Zimmer said Monday, reflecting on the 29-26 comeback victory over Washington.
He added: "I've always said I like how this team works and how they continue to compete and practice, and I think it's starting to show up a little bit at the end of games."
The end-of-game performance last season was bad enough to bring the end of the previous coach's employment.
Leslie Frazier's last of three years running the team was marked by a series of closing-seconds collapses.
Five times, the Vikings lost a lead in the final minute of regulation, for four defeats and one tie.
That here-we-go-again feeling was palpable not only among the fan base, but in the locker room after the Vikings lost 17-16 at Buffalo Oct. 19. They gave up a touchdown pass with 1 second remaining, capping an 80-yard drive by the Bills that took a little more than 3 minutes.
The next week, the Vikings bounced back. The game at Tampa Bay was ugly at times, but Teddy Bridgewater confidently moved them into position for the tying field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter. Then Anthony Barr beat the Buccaneers in overtime with a touchdown return off a fumble he forced.
Against the Redskins, the Vikings rallied from deficits of 10-0, 20-14 and 26-21 before emerging victorious. Matt Asiata's third touchdown run of the afternoon gave them the last lead with 3:27 left.
Now they're 4-5 and still alive in an underwhelming NFC playoff race, entering their bye week.
"We gave away that Buffalo game. The last two games have come down to that situation, and we've got it done," safety Harrison Smith said.
Zimmer was asked whether his vision for the team's development was progressing any faster or slower than he expected.
"I'm not very patient," he said, smiling, "so we'll just leave it at that."
Gracious enough, though, to give the players Wednesday off. The original plan called for practice that day, but they'll be free after gathering Tuesday at Winter Park for workouts and meetings.
"He said to us, 'You take care of me and I'll take care of you,'" fullback Jerome Felton said. "He's been consistent to that all the way back to training camp."
Minnesota's next game is Nov. 16 at Chicago. With better protection for Bridgewater by the offensive line the past two games, the biggest issue for the Vikings these days is the deep ball.
Bridgewater ranks 30th in the NFL in yards per attempt among qualifying quarterbacks with 6.71, and he misfired several times Sunday, particularly with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Zimmer, though, faulted Patterson for a lack of precision with his routes and said he doesn't believe Bridgewater has a deficiency throwing long.
"What I do believe is we probably need to throw it some more, and we'll hit it," Zimmer said, adding: "We're going to continue to do it and continue to practice it. And I thought it was important this week that we took some shots down the field. And even if you don't hit them, that's not necessarily a bad thing."
NOTES: TE Kyle Rudolph will take part in some individual drills in practice Tuesday, but Zimmer said he didn't know yet whether Rudolph, who has missed six games following sports hernia surgery, would be ready to return to the field against the Bears. ... The Vikings made some practice squad moves, signing QB Pat Devlin and TE RaShaun Allen, releasing TE Ryan Otten and placing QB Chandler Harnish on the injured list. Harnish hurt his foot last week in practice. Devlin, who played at Penn State and Delaware, signed as an undrafted rookie with Miami in 2011 and was cut by the Dolphins during training camp this year.
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