EAGAN, Minn. — The characteristics have always been there during Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's tenure in Minnesota.
Tough. Physical. Relentless. Disciplined.
Zimmer said his team didn't showcase their usual desired traits as often he would have liked during an up-and-down season in which the Vikings went 8-7-1 in 2018 and missed the postseason despite a win-and-in scenario at home in Week 17.
During his year-end press conference Thursday afternoon from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Zimmer was asked what separated the Vikings from the dozen teams that are now preparing for playoff games.
"You can look at a lot of the statistics. But I think, quite honestly, this football team, in the four years that I'd been here, had that nasty, we're-going-to-win-no-matter-what-the-situation-is mentality," Ziimer said. "I don't know that we had it this year. I talked to a couple people during the season that are around the building … I actually said to them, 'It's kind of a different vibe with this football team, and I can't figure out why.'
"We had a lot of the same guys back, we had good football players; I wasn't really different than I normally am. But for some reason, we didn't finish the games like we finished before. I don't know why," Zimmer added. "We had the lead in a bunch of games last year that we finished, and this year we were playing catch up more so. I don't know if that's it or not."
Zimmer then delivered a line that will surely resonate going into the 2019 season.
"But we're going to get that mentality back," Zimmer said. "I can promise you that."
The Vikings entered 2018 coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history. Minnesota went 13-3 and won the NFC North while advancing to the NFC title game.
The Vikings then had a splashy offseason by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and appeared primed for a big season ahead.
But Minnesota never found its consistency, or the attitude Zimmer wanted, as the coach said Thursday that maybe the team was hurt by the preseason assumptions that they would be better than they were in 2017.
"It could be that. It could be the expectation level and everybody believed it," Zimmer said. "It could be a lot of different things, but we're going to get it back."
The Vikings now enter an offseason earlier than anticipated, but similar to the one that occurred just two years ago.
Minnesota had a roller-coaster season in 2016, starting with five consecutive wins but finishing 8-8 and missing the postseason. That team dealt with the season-ending injury to Teddy Bridgewater just days before the opener.
Zimmer's team responded to the loss of Sam Bradford in 2017 with large doses of complementary football.
Although Cousins played every snap, the Vikings struggled with putting everything together in 2018.
Zimmer hopes the disappointing result will help the 2019 team respond in similar fashion as the 2017 squad.
"I think it's a good example. We've got good football players on this team," Zimmer said. "We've got good coaches and a great home-field stadium. There's a lot of things we can build on.
"And I told the team this Monday, but a year ago I felt like we had a big chip on our shoulder," Zimmer added. "This year, I don't know that this chip was there. We're going to get it back."
Zimmer is now 47-32-1 in his five seasons in Minnesota, and has clearly identified an area he wants to focus on heading into the offseason.
How will Zimmer bring that mentality back?
"I've got a plan," Zimmer said.