EAGAN, Minn. – Can the Vikings continue to claw their way toward a postseason berth?
Head Coach Mike Zimmer certainly believes his team has the fight to do it.
There's no doubt about it – Minnesota is in a tough spot. The Vikings defense is emaciated, having played Sunday's game at San Francisco without four starters on the defensive line.
Dalvin Cook suffered a shoulder injury Sunday that makes his status "day to day," according to Zimmer.
Every week (as of late), players have been added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, including Patrick Peterson on Monday. Many were emotionally impacted by the absence of Everson Griffen, who is away from the team while weathering a personal matter.
But despite all of the above obstacles, the Vikings continue to find themselves in down-to-the-wire games and, with a 5-6 record, still within reach of their playoff goals.
You might feel fatigued, Vikings fans, but there are six games remaining on Minnesota's schedule.
"We still hold our own fate," safety Xavier Woods told media members Monday.
Zimmer told reporters following Sunday's loss at San Francisco that he remains proud of this team of "fighters" who work hard day-in and day-out. He and Adam Thielen reiterated that mindset on Monday.
Thielen credited the team's leadership for cultivating a resilient culture within the 2021 Vikings locker room. He noted that the attitude "trickles its way down" all the way to Minnesota's rookie class and that Zimmer and his coaching staff "are doing a great job leading us."
Thielen also emphasized that even when a game goes wayward, players remain focused and determined.
"Guys are just staying in it. It's pretty cool to see on the sideline, no matter what happens, nobody's panicking, nobody's pointing fingers, nobody's down. Nobody's head is down," he said. "Everybody's just like, 'All right. Let's go. It's time to go. We've gotta fight.' It's pretty cool to see that because, now being nine years in the NFL, I've been in situations where it's not always like that. That's definitely a positive.
"Now does that change our record? No," Thielen added. "So we've got to find a way now to continue to do that, and to build off that … finish these games and ultimately do what we've got to do to win this week."
Zimmer said it's typical for a team that's struggling to stop putting forth the same level of effort, to decrease work and study habits.
But that isn't the story for this team.
"This team hasn't done that. They've been resilient. We went down by 11, I think, and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Throughout the whole course of the year, it's kind of been like that," Zimmer said. "We make a bad play on either offense or defense … heck, the defense, when Dalvin fumbled, we could have given them a touchdown and the game probably would have been over. But we held them to a field goal and were able to fight through it, and it still gave us an opportunity to win."
Let's not sugarcoat this: The 2021 season has delivered its fair share of disappointment, and moral victories don't count toward the playoff race.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
But at the end of the day, the Vikings are keeping the faith and pushing ahead. Giving up simply isn't an option.
"Like I've said in the past, if you're not frustrated with where we're at, you're in the wrong building," Thielen said. "Because at the end of the day, we come to work every day, we train the way we do in the offseason, we come to OTAs, we go to training camp with the mindset of being a playoff team and being able to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"We know what we can do. We know what we're capable of. But we have six games to now go and prove it and to ultimately get in. And once you're in, everybody's record is 0-0, and you never know what will happen," Thielen continued. "At the end of the day, we have a chance, and we're excited about that opportunity. We're excited to move forward to Detroit, and now every game is a playoff game."