EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —For the past eight weeks, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has taken the podium the day after a game and been generally pleased with what he saw when reviewing the game film.
The Vikings had played stifling defense, been effective on both sides of the ball in the red zone and relied on an efficient offense.
That wasn't the case when Zimmer re-watched Sunday's game in Carolina, as a multitude of miscues and mistakes were evident on the screen.
"After watching the tape last night and again today, we really made a lot of mistakes," Zimmer said Monday afternoon from Winter Park. "Didn't play well enough to win.
"A lot of the critical areas we've been talking about we didn't take care of, so we got beat," Zimmer added. "But it is a good time to refocus, get a good sense of urgency back and get back to work."
With three games left in the regular season, the Vikings sit at 10-3 and in first place in the NFC North. Minnesota, which would have a first-round bye if the season ended today, can clinch the division with a win at home against Cincinnati.
In order to do so, however, the Vikings know they need to be a lot sharper in numerous areas going forward.
"I think obviously we don't want to have any mistakes, whether it's now or later on," said Vikings running back Latavius Murray. "But the fact that they're right now and we still have everything we want in front of us, I think that's a good thing.
"It's a chance for us to learn from that, a chance for us to continue to get better. Win or lose, we know we have to get better at a lot of things," Murray added. "This is just a loss we're coming off of, and there's some things we really need to clean up so it doesn't happen again."
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said Minnesota's mindset won't be altered because of a frustrating loss. Instead, he said the Vikings will be hungry to get back to work.
"We're a very composed team. I don't think that we're going to let this get to us at all," Griffen said. "We're going to get back to work, we're going to have that sense of urgency, we're going to re-focus, and we're going to do our job.
"And clean up the little details of the game because that will matter most, because that's what beat us," Griffen added. "The little details – a guy getting on his gap, striking your guy, filling the hole, tackling. All the little things, you know, those are the details of the game."
Whether it was penalties, inconsistent play or mistakes inside the 20-yard line, the Vikings left Monday morning meetings kicking themselves for not executing better against Carolina.
But going forward against the Bengals, and potentially in the playoffs, they know that will be the difference between winning and losing.
"[We need to] just refocus and get back to doing what we do and doing the things we do well," Murray said. "Learning from what we did yesterday, the mistakes, and just getting back to doing the things we did that allowed us to go out there and win eight straight games, the good things we've been doing."
Evaluating the offensive line
Perhaps the most glaring number gleaned from Minnesota's offensive performance was six, as in the number of times Vikings quarterback Case Keenum was sacked Sunday against the Panthers.
Minnesota had allowed just 14 sacks all season prior to Sunday, the second-fewest total in the league. The Vikings have now allowed 20 sacks, tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL.
Vikings lineman Jeremiah Sirles said his unit shouldered the blame for allowing a season-high sack total.
"We missed some things with our eyes that we'd been picking up in the past," Sirles said. "We didn't turn things over combination-wise … just little things protection-wise that we'd been doing a pretty good job at all season to keep the pocket clean for Case.
"To give up six sacks yesterday, it hurts in the room and we know there's nowhere to point the blame but ourselves," Sirles added. "We're going to come back to work and keep fighting because we know that's not acceptable for the standard we set this year."
Zimmer also gave his assessment of a unit that was battered by injuries. Sirles and tackle Rashod Hill each played multiple spots Sunday, while Nick Easton played a position for the first time all season.
"Quite honestly, we didn't execute in a lot of areas. Some guys played well, some guys didn't play well," Zimmer said of the line. "Collectively as a group, we didn't execute well enough really on either side of the ball.
"When you have injuries, you're going to have backup players play in there. We're not going to make an excuse for this game or for players that come in or anything else," Zimmer later added. "We'll take ownership of what we did Sunday and we'll move forward."
Hill went from right tackle to left tackle after Riley Reiff exited the game with an injury. Sirles, who started at left guard, finished the game at right tackle.
"It's something that I've done for most of my career and something they've had to call upon me here to do because we've had guys go down, unfortunately," Sirles said of his versatility. "I thought Rashod did a real nice job stepping in and going to left [tackle], and Danny Isidora] stepping in [at left guard]. We had guys all over the place yesterday.
"Even with how poorly we played up front, which we thought we did play poorly watching the film, we had a chance to win it there at the end," Sirles added. "It shows that if we can be on our game up front, it doesn't matter who's in there because we can do well."
Griffen reached a career-high Sunday when he recorded his 13th sack of the season when he brought down Panthers quarterback Cam Newton late in the first quarter.
Griffen said Monday that even as the Vikings hit the stretch run of the 2017 season, he's feeling fresh and healthy.
"I feel great. I take care of my body. I'm a dog. That's what a dog's supposed to do," Griffen said. "You go out there and work. I'm going to work. That's why I come here. I'm going to be on the field, and I'm happy to be on the field.
"It's how you take care of your body. I've already been up, hyperbaric chamber at 5:30, cryotherapy at 8:06, came here and worked out, hot tub, cold tub, got a massage from five to nine, then I go back to hyperbaric chamber, then I meet with my movement coach after this," Griffen said early Monday afternoon. "So you know, this is what I do. I play a lot of plays. You have to take care of your body. It's a part of the game, and they pay me big money to play big time. So I have to play."
Griffen played 60 of Minnesota's 64 defensive snaps against the Panthers.