As he and his team came to grips with the shocking and devastating season-ending practice knee injury to starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, hardscrabble Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer met the media.
Not even two hours after the loss of Bridgewater, Zimmer had a message for his team, Vikings fans, and yes, probably the Green Bay Packers. There would be no waving of a white flag in Minnesota.
“We’re not looking for excuses. We’re going to go out and fight like we always do,” Zimmer said after Bridgewater was hurt. “Everybody can count us out if they want, but I think that would be the wrong thing to do.”
It was an emotional, strong-willed claim that will sure to resonate in the NFC North this season. The Vikings and the Packers were expected to engage in one of the most anticipated division races in the NFL this season. The storyline got juicy after the Vikings won the NFC North last year for the first time in six years, ending a four-year run of Green Bay divisional titles.
The Vikings were considered a strong upstart that looks to become one of the league’s most balanced teams. The Packers represent the old guard. However, Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime, his receiver situation has improved and the defense may be one of the NFL’s most underrated units.
The Vikings, of course, have initially stood true to Zimmer’s strong comments and made a stunning major trade Saturday, acquiring Sam Bradford from Philadelphia reportedly for a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a fourth-round choice in 2018. The steep price told two things about the Vikings: They are concerned that Bridgewater may not be ready to play right away next season and they are in their Super Bowl window.
Bradford, of course, has struggled some, but the Vikings think they are strong enough to stay a contender, and, yes, hang with Green Bay in the NFC North. It sets the stage for an intense Week 2 showdown as the Vikings open US Bank Stadium during a Sunday night game against the Packers.
Will the Vikings continue Zimmer’s message and show Green Bay the division, indeed, does goes through Minnesota or will the flux at quarterback disrupt this renewed rivalry and allow Green Bay to regain dominance in the NFC North?
“It’s one of the great questions in the league now,” longtime NFL scout Gary Horton said. “I truly don’t think Bridgewater’s injury swung it all the way back to Green Bay in the division. I think Minnesota is going to be right there. I think that because Bridgewater wasn’t going to carry them. The Vikings plan is still the same. They will run the ball with Adrian Peterson, play great defense and have the quarterback complement the team. I think that’s still the plan with Bradford instead of Bridgewater.”
Horton said it’s the best of two worlds from a pure football sense. He said he believes the Vikings will still be one of the better young teams, but the Packers, of course, are in position to compete with Minnesota throughout the season.
“I think the Packers are really, really good,” Horton said. “They could go on a long run. There’s not too many holes in Green Bay. The pass defense and secondary is really improved and terrific and I think Clay Matthews is primed to have a big year.”
Longtime NFL scout Matt Williamson believes the Packers are equipped to make a serious run this season and he does believe Minnesota’s chances to defend the NFC North have taken a hit with the Bridgewater injury.
“After all of this, I think Green Bay is clearly No. 1 in the NFC North,” Williamson said. “The Packers don’t have a ton of injuries and I think they can make a Super Bowl run for sure. They are an elite team and Minnesota isn’t.”
The key to Green Bay’s chances of becoming NFC North champions and a Super Bowl contender again was never Bridgewater, anyway. It’s all about Rodgers.
The two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl winner is 32 and is still one of the NFL’s best players. He also has receiver Jordy Nelson back after he missed all of last season with a right ACL tear. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Monday that Nelson will be ready for Sunday’s season opener at Jacksonville without any restrictions.
“Rodgers really needs Nelson back,” Horton said. “His receivers last year didn’t do a very job of separating from corners and they didn’t have make very good sight adjustments, that caused Rodgers to hold onto the ball and he took a lot of hits. I think getting Nelson back is going to be a real difference for Green Bay.”
Bridgewater or no Bridgewater, it seems Zimmer’s greatest challenge of defending the NFC North will be a stout Rodgers’ led Green Bay Packers.