EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Mike Zimmer's long path to becoming the Minnesota Vikings head coach in his late 50s is well-chronicled. The long-time standout defensive coordinator was turned down so many times that he almost didn't accept the Vikings' offer of a second interview before last season.
So you can imagine reporters wanting him to share his personal delight and satisfaction on Monday, a day after he achieved his signature victory to date, a 20-13 triumph over the Packers at Lambeau Field in a winner-take-all matchup for the NFC North.
In typical Zim fashion, the 59-year-old straight-shooter sort of shrugged. He said "players win games, not coaches" and then he turned the focus to Sunday's home wild-card game against a Seattle team that destroyed his team 38-7 at TCF Bank Stadium on Dec. 6.
"I hope this is just a step, honestly," he said. "I don't want this to be the defining moment in my career for sure. I hope that there's a lot more on the horizon. I hope that there's a lot more things to accomplish."
Seattle, 10-6 and coming off a 36-6 dismantling of NFC No. 2 seed Arizona on the road, has everyone's attention. But Zimmer is especially mindful of the amount of work there is to be done before playing the rematch of a game that was a low point for the Vikings this season.
"You look at the mistakes you made and try to correct them," Zimmer said. "I'm sure they're doing the same thing as well. Probably not as much with the way they pounded us as they did."
Two years after his predecessor, Leslie Frazier, posted the league's most scored-upon defense (30 points per game), Zimmer takes the No. 5-ranked scoring defense (18.9) into the Vikings' first playoff game since 2012. Zimmer also has Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 1,485 yards to become just the eighth player in NFL history to win a third rushing title. And he has second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who didn't play well against the Packers but has shown overall an ability to remain poised in big games during the Vikings' playoff-clinching stretch run.
The Vikings also have the Seattle game to serve as motivation for yet another week. Since that game, which Bridgewater called "an embarrassment," the Vikings have played with more passion, better tempo offensively and aggression defensively. They lost by three at Arizona before beating the Bears (38-17), the Giants (49-17) and the Packers.
"I think you can just tell how we're playing since [the Seattle game]," Zimmer said. "If you watch us play, without getting too specific, I think it just looks different to me.
"I think the players figured out how we have to play. We have to be a team that plays like that. We haven't earned anything, really. We have to go out and take it."
REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS
--PASSING OFFENSE: D. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a 45.7 passer rating, only 10 completions for 99 yards and one seriously bone-headed turnover that he was lucky enough to get away with. After the defense had forced back-to-back three-and-outs to start the second half, Bridgewater got uncharacteristically greedy under pressure. While close to being sacked, he shifted the ball to his left, non-throwing, hand and tried to flip a pass to Mike Wallace. It was intercepted, but the defense bailed Bridgewater out with a sack, forced fumble and return for a touchdown on the ensuing series.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: C. Adrian Peterson won the rushing title before kickoff and added 67 yards in what was a relatively quiet game. His 3-yard touchdown was a powerful burst that moved the pile. Peterson (3.5) and Jerick McKinnon (3.8) both averaged under four yards per carry, but the team averaged 5.6 - 151 on 27 carries - because of receiver Adam Thielen, who had a 41-yard fake punt and a 26-yard run on a gadget play in which he went in motion the left, did a U-turn and took a handoff going around right end. Bridgewater nearly blew the game in the closing seconds when he lost control of a handoff before Peterson could get the ball.
--PASS DEFENSE: A. It's rare for Aaron Rodgers to lose to the Vikings or have a passer rating under 100 against them. He went into the game with an 11-4 record against Minnesota. He lost while posting an 80.8 passer rating. He was sacked five times, lost a fumble that was returned 55 yards for a touchdown and was intercepted in the end zone with the Packers trailing by seven points in the closing minutes. Defensive end Everson Griffen had two sacks, including the strip that was ruled a fumble that cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned for the touchdown. His other sack stopped the Packers in the red zone and forced them to settle for a field goal. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes' interception was the second of his career, the first by a Viking against Rodgers since 2012 and bailed out kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who set the Packers up late in the game when he was stripped of the ball by kicker Mason Crosby at the end of a 70-yard return.
--RUN DEFENSE: A. The Vikings' recent struggles against the Packers typically started with the inability to stop the run, which would give Rodgers' the additional advantage of favorable downs and distances. This time, the Vikings were stout, even with their leading run-stuffer, nose tackle Linval Joseph, out because of a toe injury for the fourth time in five games. Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who had topped 100 yards in four straight games against the Vikings, was held to 34 yards on 13 carries (2.6). The Packers had only 76 yards on 26 carries (2.9).
--SPECIAL TEAMS: C minus. The Vikings went from A-plus to C-minus in a blink when Patterson was stripped of the ball by the kicker at the end of a 70-yard return that should have sealed the game in the closing minutes. Instead, the Packers drove down the field until Rhodes' end zone pick. Thielen's 41-yard run on a fake punt led to a field goal on the opening drive and helped the Vikings settle down in an obviously tough place to play. Kicker Blair Walsh made both field goal attempts from the mid-range distance (32, 39 yards) that's been an occasional mental block for him on field goals and point-afters this season.
--COACHING: A plus. In his 32nd game as Vikings coach, Mike Zimmer found his signature victory. Holding the Packers to 13 points while taking a winner-take-all division title matchup on the road at Green Bay is exactly the kind of thing he was hired to do. His defense stopped the run without Joseph, pressured Rodgers into uncharacteristic mistakes and carried the offense and defense to the NFC's No. 3 seed, a home playoff game and the team's first division title since Brett Favre was the quarterback in 2009. Offensively, coordinator Norv Turner shook things up in his play-calling on first downs. On the first touchdown drive, he called a pass, two Peterson runs and the gadget with Thielen than gained 26 yards against a surprised Packers defense. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer had the perfectly-timed fake punt on the opening drive and a well-blocked scheme on the 70-yard return that Patterson botched at the end.