EAGAN, Minn. – To say this Vikings season has been a roller coaster would be an understatement.
All but two of Minnesota's 10 games thus far have come down to the wire; a few have ended in gut-punching fashion, while others – like Sunday's walk-off win against Green Bay – have left fans both exhausted and elated.
The Vikings defeat of the Packers moved them to 5-5 on the season and back into playoff contention with seven games left to go.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to Twin Cities media members via videoconference Monday and said the team just has to keep at it.
"Everybody knows it's a long season. It's a marathon," Zimmer said, "and we've just got to keep finding ways to keep getting better."
He noted that it seems each time the offense plays lights-out, the defense struggles in areas, and vice versa.
"Just continuing to try to put it together," Zimmer said. "Our guys have a good attitude. They come to work every week and practice and do a good job of studying and paying attention.
"I think character in the locker room is big," he added. "Dalvin [Cook] is a tremendous leader, along with Anthony Barr – getting him back, he's a great leader, as well. And Patrick Peterson. We just keep trying to get these guys healthy when we can all play together at once."
Zimmer has worked to put together complete games despite season-ending (Danielle Hunter) and prolonged (Michael Pierce) injuries and a number of players missing games due to COVID-19 protocols.
Younger players have had to step up and contribute, including defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who returned to an initially usurped starting role in the absence of Hunter.
Wonnum recognizes and appreciates the Vikings scrappy nature, and it's why he believes in this team's potential.
"I just feel like we're fighters. Until it comes down to the end, we're going to fight to the last whistle blows, and I feel like this team, lately we've been together and finishing it at the end," Wonnum said. "That's just the biggest difference from the beginning to now. Going forward, we're going to continue to keep getting better, keep getting better."
Minnesota has benefited from aggressive offensive play from Kirk Cousins, who's especially utilized receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson down the field.
Thielen refrained from ranking himself and Jefferson among the NFL's top receiver duos; he did, however, express the pair's confidence heading into the rest of the season.
"Honestly, we feel really good about what we can do on the football field, and we feel really good about getting opportunities and helping this football team win games," Thielen said. "That's what we talk about week-in and week-out. 'Hey, it's on us to make those plays to help this football team win games.' So we put a lot on our shoulders, and we're excited every week to get opportunities."
As goes the adage, the Vikings will take the season one week at a time. Never look too far back or too far ahead.
It's fair to say, though, that a win on the road this weekend would be monumental. Especially considering the Vikings are facing a fellow NFC team in the 49ers. If Minnesota comes home with a win, it will mark the first time it improves above .500 this season.
"If we can get to 6-5, it'd be a good deal. But we just have to keep winning games," Zimmer said. "There are so many things that are happening in the NFL right now, that we just have to keep trying to win games. San Francisco is a really good team. Offensively and defensively, they do a lot of elite things. So, you know, we have to go on the road and we have to play well.
"I mean, 6-5 isn't our goal. We don't want to be 6-5; we want to be 12-5 if we can," he added. "You know, I think it's important that if we get another win, then we can hopefully stack a few together."
Of the Vikings next four opponents, three (49ers, Lions and Bears) have records at or below .500. Certainly no one in the league can be taken for granted, but it does – on paper – look to be an easier slate than what's now in the rear-view mirror.
Which means every game can move the Vikings one step closer to their goal. If they remain on their Ps and Qs.
"Every week is an opportunity for us to showcase what we're all about, and I feel like these next couple of weeks are going to be like [platforms] for us to out and compete against those teams and get these dubs," Wonnum said.
All of that being said, the Vikings are thrilled about Sunday afternoon's win but aren't taking much time to celebrate. After all, there's a lot of football still to be played.
"I mean, it definitely feels good, right? They all feel good. Victory Monday is a special feeling, for sure," Thielen said. "But I think the emphasis now has to be, 'Let's move on.'
"Yeah, it was a huge win for us," Thielen added. "Was it a confidence booster? Yes. But we have a long ways to go, a long season left, and we have a lot of important games coming up – starting this week."