Vikings trying to survive a season full of trials
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings' season began with an ambulance rushing to team headquarters to save the leg of their starting quarterback.
A blockbuster trade followed to get another quarterback in town just ahead of the season opener in hopes of keeping a championship window open only to have the offensive line decimated by injuries, their star running back go down with a knee injury and their offensive coordinator to walk away midseason with the offense struggling to get going.
And after all that, their head coach showed up to work this week with an eye patch after needing emergency eye surgery.
Few teams have faced more adversity this season than the Vikings (6-6), and their play on the field has reflected the chaos.
They started the season 5-0 thanks to an elite defense and Sam Bradford's smooth transition from Philadelphia to Minnesota.
But they have lost six of their past seven games as they prepare to play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, and have gone from Super Bowl hopefuls to holding on to their playoff lives over the past month.
''As far as last year, things are a little bit different, like smooth sailing, good things happen, everybody's happy,'' receiver Stefon Diggs said, thinking back to an NFC North-championship winning season in 2015.
''This year, things are a little bumpy in a road. But just like a football game, when you're going in a football game, adversity is going to hit at one point. What you're going to do after that is going to determine the rest of the game.''
For an organization that is well-versed in drama and pratfall - Adrian Peterson's child abuse case two years ago, Brett Favre's downfall in 2010, the Love Boat, etc., etc. - this season ranks nowhere near the top of the list when it comes to misfortune. But it has had no shortage of adversity.
-Teddy Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee that, were it not for the fast action by the Vikings training staff and trauma medics who rushed to the scene, could have resulted in an amputation from a non-contact drill.
-Peterson tore the meniscus in his right knee in Week 3, robbing the offense of its most potent and well-established playmaker.
There remains a chance he will play before the season is over, but only if the Vikings' playoff hopes remain alive.
-The offensive line lost tackles Andre Smith, Matt Kalil, Jake Long and Phil Loadholt and guard Mike Harris for the season with injuries. Center Joe Berger and right guard Brandon Fusco have also missed time and left guard Alex Boone has been playing through pain for weeks.
All of the injuries have made an essential position group the biggest weakness on the team and the biggest reason the offense is ranked 31st in the league.
-Norv Turner, coach Mike Zimmer's right-hand man in charge of the offense, abruptly left the team in early November with the offense having trouble pulling its own weight.
Pat Shurmer was elevated from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, but the change has done little to spark a unit ranked 26th in the league in scoring.
-Kicker Blair Walsh needed to be cut after leading the NFL in missed extra points, forcing the Vikings to scramble to add Kai Forbath in free agency.
-Zimmer has needed multiple surgeries on his right eye to address a detached retina, which caused him to miss the game last week against the Cowboys.
He wore an eye patch during practice on Tuesday and sunglasses on Wednesday and Thursday and will be coaching the team in Jacksonville on Sunday.
''We have to take advantage of the opportunities we have,'' said special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who filled in as head coach for Zimmer last week.
''Coach Zimmer talked to the team this week about our backs being against the wall. We've got to go get a win on Sunday and then hopefully the sky is the limit from there. But we've got to get this one first.''
The Vikings are operating under the assumption that they have to win their final four games to get into the playoffs, a stark difference from the team that was flying high after routing the Houston Texans in Week 5.
The margin for error has disappeared, and now they're hoping for a 4-0 finish to the season just like the one in 2012 that pushed them into the postseason after a 6-6 start.
''You're so frustrated because it is things that we're doing to ourselves,'' Boone said. ''At the same time you have to learn and really grow. This is the time where you're either going to take a step forward or take a step back.''
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