EAGAN, Minn. – To say the Vikings season has been a grind so far would be a tremendous understatement.
Minnesota hasn't yet reached the midpoint (halftime of the Chargers game?) of a 17-game season, but its first seven games have been mentally, emotionally and physically draining.
Six of the Vikings seven games thus far have come down to the end and been decided by seven or fewer points, and they've already gone into overtime twice – a loss at Cincinnati in Week 1 and a win at Carolina in Week 6.
The offense has struggled to find any sort of consistency, despite having a bevy of proven playmakers – that was illustrated once again Sunday night when the Vikings fell 20-16 to the Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer emphasized to media members that he and Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak are trying to make things happen offensively.
"You talk about 'aggressive play-calling' – the first play of the game, we tried to take a shot. We tried to hit a double move that we didn't connect on," Zimmer said. "We had another, the one with pass interference to [Justin] Jefferson, when he got hurt, was a deep over route. So it's not like we don't have those things that we're planning on doing. It's just something they're not working.
"We were trying to be aggressive in some of the parts there. I think we threw the ball nine straight times in the second half and went three-and-out three times," Zimmer later added. "We have to be able to run the football. We've got to get the ball to Dalvin [Cook], and we've got to try to get the ball to Jefferson and [Adam] Thielen. When Jefferson got out, we've got to try to get the ball to Adam a little bit more. We've got to try to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers."
From the 3:05 mark of the third quarter until 9:44 remained in the fourth quarter, the Vikings did attempt seven consecutive pass plays that were spread over three possessions that ended with punts.
Cook also spoke with Twin Cities media members and echoed Zimmer's thoughts, saying the offense isn't playing to its true identity from week to week.
"We just have to find ourselves, man. It's the same thing for the whole game, we never found a rhythm for the game," Cook said. "We've been harping on coming out of the second half and starting fast, getting better at that. That's something we're still working on. Still a work in progress."
There's hardly time for reflection or much adjustment, though, with Minnesota's bye in the rear-view mirror and the Baltimore Ravens on the horizon.
"This week is going to be a big challenge for us. We've got a good opponent, we're going into a great environment to play some football. So, we just have to be ready for this task we've got ahead of us," Cook said. "We have to put [Sunday's loss] behind us. I'm disappointed, couldn't hardly sleep last night. So we just have to put that behind us. New week, new challenge. The sun came up today, so we have to go to work."
As one of the Vikings eight team captains for 2021, Cook assumed responsibility for keeping the team going after an exhausting start.
"It's squarely on our shoulders to get these guys ready to go play, make sure we're dialed in and ready to go in the football game. So we're putting that pressure on our shoulders as captains and as leaders to go make sure that we've got that mindset and that mentality to go win, to go finish football games," Cook said. "It's clearly on our shoulders as leaders to make sure this team is better in those situations, and we're going to be better."
Defensive end Everson Griffen knows full-well that a turnaround isn't impossible but also understands the tough situation the Vikings are in.
Griffen has been a part of a Vikings team that started 5-0 in 2016 and finished the season 8-8, missing the playoffs; he also was part of the 2017 team, in which the Vikings started out 2-2 and went on to finish 13-3 and advance to the NFC Conference Championship.
Spending a decade-plus in the NFL will tell you that each game is its own entity, and it's possible to turn things around. And while things aren't looking great for the Vikings right now, Griffen is urging his teammates to keep their nose to the grindstone.
After all, there are 10 games remaining in the regular season.
"If we go out here and win these 10 next ones, we'd be 13-4 and it would be a whole different conversation we'd be having," Griffen said. "We're 3-4 right now; the light at the end of the tunnel still is bright for us. We have to go out there and execute our assignments. We have to go out there and finish plays. We have to go out there and score touchdowns, we have to go out there and get sacks, get more quarterback hits, run to the ball. We have to do all the small things, all the detailed things to be able to win.
"We still have 10 more games," he added. "We have a great football team, but it's frustrating when the games always end up like this. We have to take it upon each other to man up and do your job a little better."