Minnesota Vikings Terrence Newman (23) is congratulated by Harrison Smith (22) and Andrew Sendejo (34) after picking off a second pass from Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California on November 15, 2015. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 30-14. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
WINTER PARK, Minn. -- Coach Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings says he's back. Hall of Fame-bound running back Adrian Peterson says he's coming back, as long as the playoffs are still a possibility.
And safety Harrison Smith, their most versatile defensive star, might not be back the rest of the season because of an ankle injury that will keep him out of Sunday's game at Jacksonville.
Just another day at the Vikings' Winter Park infirmary, where the next in a long and never-ending list of injuries is probably lurking right around the corner.
Coach Mike Zimmer, who missed last Thursday's 17-15 loss to the Cowboys after having emergency eye surgery the night before, said Wednesday that he feels "great" and "is good to go" for Sunday's game at Jacksonville.
That's good, because the Vikings (6-6) are in the midst of a 1-6 free-fall and need to pull out of it against Jacksonville (2-10), which has lost seven straight games.
Having undergone four surgeries since Nov. 1 to repair a detached retina in his right eye, Zimmer might have to coach from the coaches' booth. But he is expected to be able to fly with the team because the type of surgery he had doesn't prohibit flying, he said.
The Vikings had a contingency plan in place for Zimmer to be driven to the game if his eye couldn't handle the pressure of traveling by air.
"I just want to talk about Jacksonville," Zimmer said when pushed for more information about his eye.
Meanwhile, in the Vikings' locker room, Peterson was talking to reporters for the first time since going on injured reserve because of torn meniscus sustained in the second game of the season.
Peterson, who will be 11 weeks out from surgery on Thursday, said he feels he's close to returning from injured reserve. He started sprinting and cutting a week ago and appears to be in his usual top shape.
Asked how he feels compared to before he was injured, Peterson said: "I feel like I'm there. Mentally, that's how I feel. I feel I was there six weeks ago. I guess that's why I'm able to heal a lot faster and to jump over hurdles that people wouldn't expect me to be jumping over as of now, going on 11 weeks. I'm taking things in stride and just controlling the things I can control."
Peterson has been known as a quick healer since 2012, when he rushed for 2,097 yards and won league MVP honors after sustaining a torn ACL the previous Christmas Eve in Washington.
"God really has blessed me to be able to heal a lot faster than others," he said. "You guys seen that in 2012 with the ACL. With this injury, it has been the same."
However, Peterson was brutally honest when asked if he would return to the field if the Vikings were out of the playoff picture.
"No," he said. "I wouldn't for obvious reasons. I'm not going to get into details about, that but my vision is making it to the playoffs. That's what I believe and that's what I have my eyes on right now."
Peterson carries an $18-million cap hit for 2017. The Vikings would have to pay him $6 million on the third day of the league year or release him. They can release him without any cap hit and aren't expected to keep him under his current contract.
Peterson knows this and presumably meant that he wouldn't want to risk his future playing in meaningless games.
There also is the game on Sunday.
The Vikings head into the game with the fourth-ranked scoring defense (17.4) and the second-ranked turnover margin (plus-13). The Jaguars have the 27th-ranked scoring offense (18.7) and are last in turnover margin (minus-18), giveaways (25) and interceptions thrown (18).
But the Vikings will be without Smith, who could be replaced by rookie Javon Kearse, second-year pro Anthony Harris or even starting cornerback Terence Newman, who shifted to safety a year ago when Smith missed a game at Arizona.
Losing another star player is just business as usual this season.
When the Vikings played the Dallas Cowboys, their quarterback, running back, punt returner, one defensive tackle, 60 percent of their offensive line and even their on-field head coach (special teams coordinator Mike Priefer) were once backups or not even with the team when training camp started.
Asked if reports that Smith could be done for the year are true, Zimmer didn't rule out one of his tougher players.
"I know Harrison Smith is a pretty tough guy and he plays all the time," Zimmer said. "When he's hurt, he plays. He always plays, so I don't care about reports."
SERIES HISTORY: Sixth regular-season meeting. Vikings lead the series, 4-1. The Vikings have played at Jacksonville only one time, winning 30-12 to improve to 6-5 during the 2008 season. The first of four straight wins that year helped Brad Childress reach the playoffs for the first time in his third season as head coach. The last meeting came in 2012, when Blair Walsh, in his first NFL game, kicked a game-tying 55-yard field goal to force overtime in the closing seconds and then the game winner for a 26-23 win in overtime.
--Quarterback Sam Bradford's record with the Vikings fell below .500 (5-6) for the first time. But he's having one of the better seasons of his career, especially when you consider that he didn't join the Vikings until eight days before the season opener and started a week later against the Packers at home.
"I do feel more comfortable out there than I probably have in the past, and I think that's just being healthy for two years in a row, being able to go out there and to play," said Bradford, who battled knee injuries in St. Louis before being traded to Philadelphia last year and then the Vikings this year.
Bradford has a career-high five games with a passer rating of 100 or more. He's also second in the league in completion percentage (71.2) and has thrown only three interceptions in 393 attempts.
The Vikings have played five games since Norv Turner resigned as offensive coordinator. Tight ends coach, Pat Shurmur, who was with Bradford in St. Louis in 2010 and Philadelphia last year, was elevated to interim offensive coordinator.
"Obviously, I think some of that (comfort) comes with being with Pat (Shurmur), being in a system I'm familiar with, too," he said. "And so, yeah, I would say right now is the most comfortable I've felt out there."
--Coach Mike Zimmer doesn't mind that defensive end Brian Robison ripped the officiating in the locker room after the Vikings' 17-15 loss to the Cowboys. Robison complained about holding that went uncalled and singled out a non-call on a Cowboys defender who grabbed quarterback Sam Bradford's facemask on an incomplete pass on the game-tying two-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds.
"What I said (about the officiating is), 'They probably missed some calls like every ball game, but the officiating didn't beat us,'" said Zimmer, correcting a reporter who said Zimmer told his players not to criticize the officials.
Zimmer also said he talked to the players about what he calls E.E.F. -- or Everybody Else's Fault -- and the importance of steering clear of using that as a crutch.
"I don't really hide much from the players," Zimmer said.
NOTES: DE Danielle Hunter has 5 1/2 sacks in the last four games. He leads the team with 9 1/2 on the season and all second-year players with 15 1/2 the last two seasons. He was a third-round draft pick. ... DE Brian Robison is tied with Everson Griffen for second on the Vikings in sacks with six. He has two in the last three games. Robison, 33, is trying to reach double digits in sacks for the first time in his 10-year career. He has 54 1/2 career sacks with a season-high of nine in 2013. ... WR Stefon Diggs is 194 yards short of becoming the Vikings' first 1,000-yard receiver since Sidney Rice had 1,312 yards while teaming up with Brett Favre during the Vikings' 2009 run to the NFC title game. ... FS Harrison Smith (ankle) didn't practice and isn't expected to play on Sunday at Jacksonville. He's one of the team's best defenders and its most versatile. Without him, the Vikings will be much more one-dimensional and weaker at the position. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Jayron Kearse started in place of SS Andrew Sendejo at Chicago on Oct. 31, but had to be benched early because of poor play. Anthony Harris is another possibility. ... C Joe Berger, who missed last week's game because of a concussion, was limited in Wednesday's practice. The fact he has cleared the concussion protocol means he will play Sunday. ... PR Marcus Sherels, who missed the last two games, was limited on Wednesday because of a rib injury. He should be able to return Sunday. If not, the punt return duties could fall on WR Stefon Diggs or WR Adam Thielen. ... DE Everson Griffen (hip) was limited in Wednesday's practice, but is expected to play on Sunday.