GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just four days ago, Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer made it clear that he expected more from his team.
"We're not as good as we think we are," Zimmer stated after a loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
If Zimmer was hoping that statement would light a fire under his team, it just may have worked.
Down four starters (defensive tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo) against the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings gave an inspired performance on Thursday Night Football.
Although the passionate effort came in a gut-wrenching 23-20 loss, Zimmer, who ruled out moral victories earlier this season, may have found a silver lining.
"I hope they learned that if we fight and play with a chip on our shoulder, we fight and give the kind of effort we did tonight, that we have a chance to be a good football team," Zimmer said. "I'm hoping this was a good learning experience for our guys. Even though we lost — I've always said no moral victories, but this is hopefully a good learning experience for us."
Tight end Kyle Rudolph noticed that "chip on the shoulder" throughout the week of practice, something that manifested itself early in the game.
"I think it was evident from our first drive, going down and getting that touchdown," Rudolph said. "After the way we played last week, having our first opportunity to go down and score a touchdown was big."
Tom Johnson, Joseph's replacement in the starting lineup, was proud of the effort he saw from his defensive teammates.
"I think everybody on the team played hard," Johnson told Vikings.com. "If you watch that film, you aren't going to see guys out there loafing around. We stayed aggressive the whole night. They just ended up making more plays than us and came out on top."
With several younger players called into action, the veterans took on even more of a leadership role as defensive end Brian Robinson delivered a pregame speech.
"Before the game today, B-Rob came to the locker room after warmup and told us how it is," cornerback Terence Newman said. "We need to let it go, come out and play like we know we can play. We need to come out with some fire, emotion and play with passion because this is a huge game for us. I thought guys responded well to that. At the end of the day, we just didn't get it done."