Ten years ago, in his fourth professional game and start, Patrick Peterson learned just how much little details can make a big difference in the NFL.
Peterson has played 159 regular-season games since but still is able to detail a mistake he made during an eventual 31-27 win by the Giants over his Cardinals. New York rallied from two 10-point deficits in the second half by scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.
"We were in a Cover 2, but I did not jam the receiver good enough to get him wide enough to get him off the spot, and Eli Manning just put [the ball] right there in the honey hole," Peterson recalled. "I did that same thing in practice, and that moment showed up in the game. That just showed me you have to play the game within the week, because you never know what play is going to show up in the game that you're practicing throughout that week.
"Those are some of the things that I just try to relay to some of the young guys, some of the things that I instilled in my game," Peterson said. "I try to hold myself at a high level [like] that. You can ask the guys around the locker room, because you just never know. You have to play the game within the week. You can't just go through the motions throughout practice, trying to get through the game, because we're practicing these plays for a reason."
The question-and-answer were exchanged Friday morning when Peterson participated in a virtual session with Twin Cities media members. It was asked on the heels of Pittsburgh rallying with 21 points and nearly coming back to tie Minnesota the previous night.
Moments before Peterson's session, Head Coach Mike Zimmer explained that his mood going into Minnesota's mini-bye week was being impacted by the game film — and not the 23-0 Vikings edge in the first half. Instead, he remained irked by the second half in which Pittsburgh outscored Minnesota 28-13.
"The second half, honestly, it was really disappointing," Zimmer said. "We talk about details all week, and then we had a lot of guys who were [making] poor technique errors, alignment errors or kind of getting away and doing their own things. So I'm going to stay on them hard and try to get them back to being a lot more consistent than we were in that second half. Trying to look more like the football team that was in the first half."
While Peterson was at one cornerback spot for all 74 of Minnesota's defensive snaps, the Vikings rotated through Bashaud Breeland, who played 50 snaps but left the game for a bit with an illness, Cameron Dantzler (11 snaps) and Kris Boyd (12 snaps).
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Everyone can see the end results of plays that gained 30-plus yards, particularly on the 50-50 passes that Pittsburgh seemed to hit 100 percent with some remarkably improbable completions, but Zimmer's ire began at the start of several plays, before the ball was snapped.
"The thing I'm disappointed with the corners is, you know, a guy got a cut [tight] split and they line up head-up on the guy and give him a chance to get there," Zimmer said. "The guy is supposed to be on top of the receiver, [but] they're running hip-to-hip with him. Those kinds of things are really disappointing. Allowing 50-50 balls, and what ended up happening is what happened. So that's disappointing to me.
"We've got guys in wide splits, and we're lined up head-up on them instead of being inside. We didn't tackle a couple of times on the perimeter. The ball got outside the corners a couple times on the perimeter in the run game," Zimmer continued. "So I thought Boyd competed really well. He had the one poor penalty. He did a nice job on things like tackling, but if he's on top of that receiver, that ball (a 37-yard completion) is not thrown or has to be a back-shoulder fade, which is much, much tougher. And I don't think Dantzler played very good in the red zone."
Dantzler has started 14 of the 22 games he's played since joining Minnesota as a third-round pick in 2020. Boyd, a 2019 seventh-rounder, has made five starts and played primarily on special teams in 38 total games.
As for Breeland, who has started all 13 games this season and 101 in his career, Zimmer said, "The same thing with him. If he lines up in the right place, does the right things, everything will be all right."
As the Vikings return to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Tuesday, they can expect another discussion about details.
Zimmer believes they can make the difference between Minnesota (6-7) rallying for a Wild Card spot or missing the playoffs. The Vikings have four games remaining, beginning with Chicago (4-9) at Soldier Field for Monday Night Football on Dec. 20.
"I really feel like if we start being more disciplined in our alignments and our techniques and where we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to do, we don't have to make it like this," Zimmer said of having 12 games this season decided by one possession and so many coming down to the wire. "That's what I'm going to stress to the players. When they come back next week, they're going to get a full dose."
View the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" as the team defeated the Steelers in Week 14 on Thursday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Peterson said Zimmer has communicated he plans to be aggressive on defense down the stretch in 2-minute drills and when opponents reach the red zone.
"I would probably say those two situations are the biggest for us moving forward, and it's been that throughout the season, as well. I think now, with us being a little bit more aggressive and having a different mindset going into those situations, I think it's going to be better for us going forward," Peterson said. "Like Zim' talked about last week, he's approaching every play like it's third-and-7, having that aggressive mindset, not playing too loosely, still making it hard on the quarterback to make the proper decision, make the right throws. I thought last night, we took a step toward that.
"We got four games left that we have to put it all, we need every hand in the pile," Peterson said. "We have to put it all in for this last stretch of the season. Every game and every second matters."
And every little detail, too.