EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings will officially hit the midpoint of the 2021 season at halftime of Sunday's game against the Chargers.
Minnesota is 3-5 at this stage of the season, which has been a dizzying ride that has perhaps given a few people whiplash and heartburn along the way.
There's also a sense of palpable frustration for the Vikings, who have a losing record but have a plus-3 point differential on the season. (Minnesota has scored 194 points and allowed 191 points through eight games).
"Personally, it's very frustrating. And it's frustrating for the players," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "They fight their rear ends off like crazy, and it comes down to those situations, and you really feel like we've got a smart team, and typically when you go out there and you win those games at the end, it changes the attitude, it changes the complexion of the season and everything else. So that part is frustrating, yeah. We fight like crazy and can't get it done in the end."
Everyone is feeling the effects of the grinder, but Zimmer shouldered responsibility for trying to turn the close losses into wins.
"Seven out of the eight games have come down to the last play," Zimmer said. "I've got to figure out a way to teach them how to finish these games so we're on the other side of this thing as opposed to the way it came out yesterday.
"We're working on doing that and will continue to work hard and keep going from there," Zimmer added.
Offensively, the Vikings are looking for any answer to jump-start a unit that has started games hot only to fizzle out for long stretches after opening drives.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen sounded weary Monday when answering the same topic of questions for multiple weeks in a row.
"We know we have the guys, we know we have the quarterback, we know we have the skill-position guys, we know we have the offensive line, we know our coaches are busting their tails to do whatever it takes, but it's kind of getting old," Thielen said. "It's getting old, the talk about that.
"I know the fans are done with it, us coming in here every single week and saying, 'We have the guys, we've just got to go out and execute.' So I don't really know what to say, because that's the same thing each week," Thielen added.
A key way to fix that, Zimmer noted, is to get points off takeaways. Minnesota has won the turnover battle 4-0 in the past two games, but has managed just a field goal on the four ensuing drives.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Zimmer said: "We've been talking about that as coaches, how we can try to create some energy when that happens and maybe try to get a couple shots in there as opposed to just making it everyday, normal football."
Thielen called that stat "unacceptable" and said the onus is on the offense to capitalize when given the chance.
"When the defense gives us that opportunity to get the ball on a short field, a sudden change is huge momentum for us," Thielen said. "We got to go, and we got to go execute and score points. That's our job. That's what we need to do as an offense to win games."
Defensively, the Vikings simply got worn down by a Ravens team that piled up exactly 500 yards of offense and controlled the ball for more than 46 minutes in Sunday's 70-minute tilt.
A quartet of players — Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Xavier Woods and Camryn Bynum — were on the field for all 98 of Baltimore's snaps. Cameron Dantzler (96 snaps) and Everson Griffen (87 snaps) also shouldered heavy workloads.
And with the Vikings currently in the meat grinder of their schedule — both in terms of quality opponents and travel — Zimmer said he will be as prudent as possible to try and get players rest before a trip to Los Angeles this weekend.
"I don't know that I've ever seen a game that's had 98 plays on one side of the ball or the other. So yeah, that's a really good question," Zimmer said. "I know Barr and Kendricks and a lot of – Xavier – played almost every single play. Griff had a lot of plays. So some of these older guys on defense, I'm gonna have to get them back.
"[I] made sure they got into the recovery room today and got their bodies going. We'll have to try to be smart in practice this week," Zimmer added. "We're getting the things that we need to get done, but we've gotta get ready to go. It is what it is. We've gotta go out and play."
Zimmer's final point is a good one. The Vikings are two games below .500, which is tied for their lowest point of the season.
But the Chargers aren't going to ease up, especially with Los Angeles at 5-3 and currently leading a tight AFC West race. Simply put, Zimmer's squad is going to have to suck it up and try to reverse their fortunes despite the fatigue.
And, just as Zimmer predicted this summer, the Vikings are also trying to manage COVID-19 as the season's halfway point nears.
Minnesota currently has five players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, a group that includes Harrison Smith, Garrett Bradbury, Ryan Connelly and two practice squad players (Dakota Dozier and Timon Parris).
Zimmer said Sunday evening that Smith, who is unvaccinated, is likely to miss the Chargers game. Bradbury and others could return, but the Vikings will need to adapt and also hope no other players get added to the list this week.
"Well, first of all, I hate to see our players miss games, obviously," Zimmer said. "I also hate to see them with the possibility of being possibly sick. I know Garrett was vaccinated.
"It's frustrating, but at the same point, the players that are not vaccinated, I think they've made their decisions on what they're going to do and there's really no sense fighting it with me," Zimmer added. "They are going to do what they are going to do."