EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are set to embark on a six-game sprint to try and earn a playoff spot.
Minnesota has three home games and three road contests left, beginning Sunday in Detroit. The Vikings currently sit at 5-6 and out of a Wild Card spot, but are about a coin flip's chance to get into the postseason.
Yet Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer knows that in order for his team to make a run, they will need to be as a fresh as possible for game days. Zimmer took it easy on his players Wednesday, holding a walk-through session instead of a full practice.
"We've been checking the East Coast, West Coast, [West] Coast," said Zimmer, referencing a November that included road trips to Baltimore, Los Angeles and San Francisco. "We've had some pretty physical games, overtime, things like that, so we're just backing down."
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Dec. 1 at the TCO Performance Center.
The Vikings are also gearing up for two games in five days, as they host the Steelers on Thursday Night Football in Week 14.
The 65-year-old Zimmer, who has been in the NFL since 1994, noted that he has had to learn how to ease off the gas pedal at times over his time in the league.
"It's hard for me anyway, but we do have some older players that we have to take care of," Zimmer said. "But there's a fine line with some of the young guys that are playing so they don't get as good of work as they would, but I think it's important that we continue to try to stay fresh, and we've been doing a little bit more on Wednesdays this year than we have in the past.
"Like I told them this morning, they've been emptying their buckets for me and for them each and every week, so I'm trying to take care of them so they can do that again on Sunday," Zimmer added.
He also credited Josh Hingst, Minnesota's first-year Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, and Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman for their efforts in keeping players available for the marathon season.
"Our strength coach, Josh Hingst, who does a really good job of charting the effort from the GPS systems," Zimmer said. "[And] our trainer Eric Sugarman … they talk to me a lot about what we've done, our cumulative stuff to this point.
"They actually talked me into it today. I had them both in my office this morning," Zimmer said.
Hingst and Sugarman are certainly earning their paychecks in 2021 considering the seesaw season it's been for Zimmer's squad.
Minnesota is the NFL's only team to have at least a seven-point lead in every game this season. But the Vikings have had trouble capitalizing on that momentum, as all but one game has been decided by one possession or less.
Zimmer noted Wednesday that while the close games have been stressful, he's glad his team hasn't had a no-show performance.
"I think if we would've had a clunker it probably would've been last Sunday after an emotional win [over the Packers], going back to the West Coast, playing a good team on the road," Zimmer said. "I think it shows this team likes to compete.
"We've got the right kind of guys that will go out there and compete each and every day and hopefully we won't have any of those clunkers," Zimmer added. "Hopefully we win some by 13. That would be nice."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins echoed Zimmer's comments, saying the onus this week was on making sure Minnesota doesn't have to sweat yet another close game.
"We've certainly won some close games. I think back to some of the wins that we've had that have been close, as well," Cousins said. "You do know that if you're able to squeeze a couple of those other ones out, that you put yourself in a different position here down the stretch.
"We'll have to find a way to do it, and as Coach Zimmer has said, the preference is to not even make it close. That's really the first coaching point – let's not leave it to the last play," Cousins added. "I know our opponent this week – the Lions – are saying the same thing. They've been in so many games as well, and that's just how this league tends to be."
Of the 10 games that have been decided late, one of them was Minnesota's 19-17 Week 5 win that required a walk-off, 54-yard field goal from Greg Joseph at the buzzer.
That loss put the Lions at 0-5, and they are still winless with an 0-10-1 record.
The Vikings will look to get a more comfortable win this time around, with the hope that some mid-week rest will pay off this weekend.
"You can't really look at their record, because they've had so many close games," Zimmer said of Detroit, which has played six games decided by eight or fewer points. "I mean, we had to come back in the 2-minute drill [against them]."