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Every time I see Audie Cole get on the field, he is always around the ball and making plays. He consistently plays with passion and actually knows how to make a tackle, not just go for the big hit. I would like to hear your thoughts on why he doesn't get more playing time. -- Joe T. Freeport, NY
There's no reason to hold any excitement back about the way Cole played. He was a seventh-round pick three years ago, so the fact he's even on a roster, let alone dominating a game, is remarkable. What's important, though, is to guard against being a prisoner of the moment. Cole was a stud on Sunday and before that he wasn't good enough to get on the field much. The truth is that he's probably somewhere between those two realities. The reason he hadn't been playing is because he was beaten out for jobs by Anthony Barr and Jasper Brinkley before the season, and they both played well enough to keep their jobs. But Cole got his shot on Sunday and he took advantage of it. That's great news for the Vikings and there's plenty of reason to be excited about what Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer can do with Cole now that he'll have another offseason with him.
What was the most impressive part of the defense on Sunday? -- Tom H. Muncie, IN
The way the defense handled sudden change possessions and defended short fields was the most impressive aspect of the performance on Sunday. Chicago drove inside the red zone just twice and neither time was the Vikings defense at fault. The first red zone drive for Chicago came off an interception return to the Minnesota 9 and the second red zone drive came off a 67-yard kickoff return to the Minnesota 35. The Vikings defense allowed nine plays for 18 yards and just one 1st down on both drives combined, forcing two field goal tries. Being able to handle sudden change and defend short fields is an important part of playing defense in the NFL, and the Vikings did both on Sunday.
With talk of rookie of the year, I haven't seen Teddy Bridgewater's name come up much. Why is that? -- David D. Sioux Falls, SD
While Bridgewater has had the best season of any rookie at the most important position in the sport, he has also steadily progressed as the season has gone on. That bodes well for his development as the Vikings franchise quarterback, but it's not the way to win rookie of the year honors. Also, win-loss records are tied to quarterbacks more than any other position, and the Vikings sub-.500 record isn't helping Bridgewater's case. Yes, offensive rookie of the year honors would be a nice cap to Bridgewater's season. But Vikings nation can rest easy this offseason knowing that, rookie of the year honors or not, the Vikings have an answer at quarterback.
Two questions. One – How do the players like playing for Zimmer? Two – Why was Cordarrelle Patterson dropped from the offense lately? -- Kirby K. Duluth, MN
I can't speak for all the players, but judging from how the Vikings practice and how hard they play on the field during games it's clear to me this team loves its head coach. Also, if you go back and watch Zimmer's post-game press conference on Sunday, you'll notice he fights off tears while describing a moment he had with Xavier Rhodes after the game in which Rhodes thanked him for making him a better player this season. That Rhodes would do that in the locker room just moments after the season finale and that Zimmer would get emotional about it while explaining tells me the relationship between these players and their head coach is strong.
As for Patterson, I'm sure there are a lot of reasons for his lack of productivity on offense. The bottom line now is that it's in the past. Going forward, the Vikings will have a plan for Patterson to improve his play and get him more involved, and the ultimate responsibility will be Patterson's. It's up to him to improve and get better. Patterson is a competitive and prideful player, so it's fair to expect a huge step forward from him this offseason. It's clear that, with Bridgewater under center, this offense is on the verge of becoming a good one, and I would imagine Patterson is interested in being part of that.
We finished 7-9, but it looks to be that we have a bright future and an exciting offseason ahead of us. What do the Vikings need to do to get better this offseason? SKOL! -- Tanner W. Mitchell, SD
With a defensive-minded head coach who has high standards for his group and a young, franchise quarterback to raise, the Vikings can go into the offseason with the intent to upgrade around every nook and cranny. Finding a way to generate explosive plays on the ground, fortifying the front lines and giving Zimmer more defensive backs with which to work are all items that could be on the offseason to-do list. GM Rick Spielman and Zimmer guided the Vikings to tremendous improvement this season, but at 7-9 and with a third place finish in the division the Vikings are not one player away from getting to where they want to go.
I would like to thank my Vikings team for a not-so-bad season. From the 16 games, what were the highlights and low points? How would you rate our rookie head coach and all the rookie players? I am optimistic that 2015 is our year! SKOL! -- Raj B. Sioux Falls, SD
A few of the low points included losing players for the season (Matt Cassel, Brandon Fusco, Adrian Peterson, for example), dropping a heartbreaker in Buffalo and the debacle against the Dolphins in Week 16. But there were many more highlights along the way, including the development of Bridgewater, the overall defensive improvement under Zimmer, WR Charles Johnson's emergence, RB Matt Asiata scoring 10 touchdowns, LB Anthony Barr being the real deal, two blocked punts for touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers and closing the season with a hard-fought win over a division rival, just to name a few.