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Monday Morning Mailbag: Cook's Status & the Vikings Quest for the Postseason

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Mike Zimmer's poor time management at the end of the first half cost us points. We needed to call timeout after the Niners second-down play, and I believe we go down and score at least a field goal to end the half on a good note.

Kirk Cousins had arguably his worst performance of the year and that interception was terrible. Instead of the predictable run, run, throw, throw on the goal line in the fourth quarter, I would like to see us sell hard play action and get Cousins out of the pocket on first down.

At this point I think we must win against Lions, Bears (twice) and Steelers. We win those four games, and 9-8 gets the seventh seed. What do you think?

— Rich Cherkas in Sioux City, Iowa

And the roller-coaster ride that is the Vikings 2021 season continues. Come on now, you really thought we'd get through the final stretch without a few more twists and turns?

Rich starts us off with a few thoughts, but he also makes some valid points. Let's dive into them.

Yes, my personal belief is that Zimmer should have called a timeout when the 49ers had third-and-11 at the Vikings 30-yard line. There was about a minute left on the clock when the second-down play ended, and in my eyes, you bank on getting the stop and giving your offense the ball back with 55 seconds left or so.

And I know the 49ers converted on third down, but I think that's an appropriate time to try and give your offense a chance … even if you're still on defense.

On the flip side, Zimmer lost a fourth-quarter challenge he should have easily won. Even if the league's own officiating department was wishy-washy after the game.

I guess the NFL will apologize and send a nice fruit basket or something, but it's beyond frustrating when the league misses fairly obvious calls, even with the benefit of replay.

Onto Cousins' interception … everybody knows it was a bad decision, including him.

"Just a poor throw, poor read," Cousins said. "Made a poor decision. Just got blocked out and shouldn't have thrown it where I did."

That turnover was just one play in the game, but it didn't help that it came near the end of a disastrous 4-minute stretch on both sides of the ball for the Vikings.

And a very disappointing end to the fourth-quarter drive where the Vikings had first-and-goal at the 6 and came away with nothing. I don't mind one run to Mattison there, but maybe not two. And perhaps the play-action threat wanes with Mattison in and not Dalvin Cook, who had left the game with a shoulder injury.

I also don't mind the decision to go for it on fourth down, as the Vikings had converted their previous five tries on that down. Down by eight, you have to go for the tie if you're just three yards away.

So where does this leave the Vikings with six games to go?

Rich believes it will take four wins to get into the dance. Personally, I think it might take just three, meaning an 8-9 record will be good enough.

That's based on what I've seen from the other teams vying for the final spots, a group that includes Atlanta and New Orleans (both are 5-6), plus a pair of 5-7 teams in Philadelphia and Carolina.

If I'm being honest, the seventh seed in the NFC making it at 8-9 would be fitting based on how inconsistent and bad some of these teams have looked at times this season. And the Vikings are in that group, too.

Sunday felt like a playoff game, and Minnesota once again found itself in a tight contest. But the Vikings didn't win, and endured yet another wouldha, couldha, shouldha postgame press conference.

Zimmer ended his presser with a 143-word bite about how proud he is of his team. And he should be knowing they were undermanned and still hung in there with a good 49ers squad.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs, and I think that, you know, I'm proud of their effort," Zimmer said. "They played hard. I'm proud of their effort. We didn't get the win, so there's no consolation prizes, but I'm proud of the way they competed.

"You know, you've got guys coming in off the street on Wednesday and going out there and trying to learn the defense and play, and things like that," Zimmer added. "We had some guys nicked up, we lost some guys today, and they go out there and fight. We didn't get the win, but they're fighters. If nothing else, they're fighters."

Every word Zimmer said above is true. The Vikings are fighters. And with six games left, the Vikings will have to earn their way into the playoffs.

But if they get there, the Vikings will have to figure out ways to come up with wins. You don't get awarded wins in the playoffs for playing hard.

With Dalvin possibly out indefinitely, will we be seeing [Kene] Nwangwu in the backfield? What are your thoughts?

— Nicholas Balkou

I'll get to Nwangwu in a bit, but first want to touch on Cook first.

As of Monday morning, there was still no official word from the Vikings on his status, other than that he was going to get an MRI today on his injured shoulder.

Zimmer didn't have an update on whether or not the star running back could possibly be done for the season, but it's always a scary scene when a player stays on the ground that long and then has to leave on a cart.

Cousins commented on Cook's injury after the game, noting that his teammate is "such a key piece of our team and our offense."

The quarterback is absolutely right, and losing Cook for a long stretch of the season would obviously affect the Vikings offense.

Cook missed two games earlier this season, and Mattison ran for 112 and 113 yards, respectively, in those two starts. But that's a different situation than Cook missing one-third of the season and allowing defenses to focus in on Mattison … and the Vikings passing attack.

That's not to say the Vikings can't still have an effective ground game with Mattison, but Cook is a Pro Bowler for a reason.

And it would allow teams to really focus in on Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Minnesota's offense has struggled this season when teams key on both players at once and play shell coverage to take away the big play.

The spotlight will be on first-year Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak and the rest of the Vikings offensive staff to adapt if Cook is indeed out for a while.

As for Nwangwu, what an explosive talent on special teams. Let's hope the Vikings can incorporate some of that speed into the offense going forward.

For what it's worth, Zimmer said it's likely that he gets more touches going forward.

"Yeah, I think there's a chance that he may end up getting some more playing time. He got a couple carries today, I think," Zimmer said. "He's still a young guy, and we brought him in as a kickoff returner and a backup running back, but he's done a nice job on a couple of these situations for returning the ball."

Nwangwu had one carry for a gain of 7 yards Sunday — his first offensive touch of the season. He obviously has the two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season, but his only other carry came on special teams.

I also want to rant about the Vikings being snakebit again. First, the missed extra point, then the offensive pass interference not called, and of course the lucky field goal that hit the uprights and somehow went through. Oh well, it's been that kind of season.

— Jeff Wizner in Blackduck, Minnesota

Ahhh, the life of a Vikings fan.

I'm kidding, Jeff, and empathize with all of the points you made.

I, too, thought it was offensive pass interference on Deebo Samuel with about five minutes left in the third quarter. And then Robbie Gould's field goal on the ensuing play kisses the upright and deflects in.

Perhaps that field goal is no good if the 49ers get backed up after the missed call?

It has been a wild season for the Vikings though, Jeff, you are correct about that. And while I agree with the points you offered above, I'll also add this.

View game action photos between the Vikings and 49ers during the Week 12 matchup at Levi's Stadium.

Good teams find a way to overcome those situations and have success. The Vikings certainly had their chances, but getting zero points on the final two offensive possessions — all while allowing the 49ers to bleed seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter — does not equate to a winning formula.

The Vikings have had some breaks go their way this year, too. They have two of the six kickoff returns for scores around the league this year, but have lost both games.

Minnesota is 5-6, and it feels like it should have a better record than that. But add it all up — the good, the bad and the ugly — and that feels about right for a team that needs to show more consistency down the stretch.