Underdogs again, Vikings say it brings out their best
EAGAN, Minn. -- The Vikings are underdogs for Sunday, Dec. 2’s game at New England, and that’s OK with head coach Mike Zimmer.
“I think we play better when we’re underdogs,” he said.
The Patriots are a five-point favorite for the game at Gillette Stadium; it is the fourth time this season the Vikings (6-4-1) have been an underdog.
When the Vikings are underdogs, Zimmer said, “It’s just us against the world.”
Whether that’s been the case this season is debatable, but overall the Vikings have done pretty well as underdogs in Zimmer’s five seasons with the team.
As underdogs this season, the Vikings: lost at the Los Angeles Rams 38-31 (7 1/2-point underdog); won at Philadelphia 23-21 (3 1/2 points); lost at home to New Orleans 30-20 (2 1/2) and lost at Chicago 25-20 (2 1/2). So, they’re 2-2 against the spread but 1-3 where it counts.
Since Zimmer took over in 2014, Minnesota is 11-19 when an underdog and 19-11 against the spread. Since 2015, when the Vikings first made the playoffs under Zimmer, they’re 8-11 when an underdog and 12-7 against the spread.
A winning percentage of .421 since 2015 in games the Vikings were supposed to lose isn’t all that bad.
“(Zimmer) always kind of reminds us we play better when we have a chip on our shoulder, when we feel like we have something to prove,’’ tight end Kyle Rudolph said Friday. “We’ve played better as a team (as an underdog).”
The Rams were the biggest favorite against the Vikings this season. Although the Vikings didn’t win the Week 4 prime time game, they had a chance to force overtime until quarterback Kirk Cousins lost a fumble near midfield with 1:18 remaining.
The week before, Minnesota lost to lowly Buffalo, 27-6, at home.
“After we lost at Buffalo, nobody gave us a chance at L.A., and I thought we played pretty well in that game,” rudolph said.
The loss dropped the Vikings to 1-2-1 heading into a game at defending Super Bowl champ Philadelphia, where they avenged their NFC championship game loss.
“Being marked as an underdog would put a chip on a lot of people’s shoulder,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “What (Zimmer) is talking about is going out and doing what only we believe that we can do within these walls, and just going out and showing the world what we’ve got.”
The Vikings haven’t shown the world a lot against the Patriots lately. They haven’t beaten them since a 21-13 road win in 2000, when New England quarterback Tom Brady was a rookie and didn’t play.
Since then, Brady has won five Super Bowls and beaten the Vikings in all four of the teams’ matchups. So, it’s no surprise the Patriots (8-3) are favored to win again Sunday.
“The challenge of playing Tom Brady alone should motivate us,” said linebacker Anthony Barr, a rookie the last time Minnesota faced the Patriots, a 30-7 home loss in 2014. “We shouldn’t have to have an external motivation.”
Nevertheless, linebacker Eric Kendricks doesn’t mind the motivation of knowing the Vikings are underdogs.
“That just adds fuel to the fire,’’ he said. “We’ve got to go out and prove ourselves every day and it’s just another opportunity to go out and do that.’’
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson has been with Minnesota since Zimmer’s first season. He said the coach doesn’t hesitate to let players know when prognosticators are betting against the Vikings.
“We play blue collar-type ball, and Coach Zimmer, that’s his essence,’’ Johnson said. “So, him saying we’re the underdog, it makes us have something to prove. So I think it brings a little something out of guys.”