Where Does Vikings Win Over Cowboys Rank Among Best Victories of Mike Zimmer Era?
In the midst of his sixth season as the Vikings' head coach, Mike Zimmer just won one of the biggest games of his entire tenure in Minnesota.
Since arriving from Cincinnati and taking his first head coaching job in 2014, Zimmer has established himself as one of the better coaches in the NFL. The Vikings' 60.7 winning percentage in regular season games since the start of 2014 trails only the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, and Seahawks. Already, the defensive-minded Zimmer is one of the ten longest-tenured coaches in the NFL.
Zimmer has also already proven to be one of the best coaches in Vikings history. Among the nine coaches to ever lead the franchise, only Bud Grant (.620 in 17 seasons) and Dennis Green (.610 in ten seasons) have better regular season winning percentages than Zimmer.
Yet, despite that success, Zimmer's teams don't have a ton of signature victories. He has one win and two losses in the playoffs, with both the win and one of the losses coming in shocking fashion on the game's final play.
On Sunday night, in the city where he spent 13 seasons as an assistant coach, Zimmer picked up one of those signature victories. His team went to Dallas and beat the number one offense in the league in primetime, in a game they desperately needed for both playoff positioning and confidence.
It wasn't the best win of Zimmer's Vikings career, but it was close. Below is a shot at ranking the top five regular season wins (his only playoff win, the Minneapolis Miracle game, would be the clear No. 1 overall) of the Mike Zimmer era.
Note: These games are ranked based on how important they were/felt at the time, not how important they ended up being at the end of the season.
1. Week 17, 2015: Vikings beat Packers for NFC North title in season finale
This is the obvious answer for the top spot. The Vikings and Packers were deadlocked at 10-5 heading into this game, with the winner taking the division and getting to play its first playoff game at home. It was at Lambeau Field, against reigning MVP and longtime nemesis Aaron Rodgers.
Despite Teddy Bridgewater only throwing for 99 yards, the Vikings won. They used a gutsy fake field goal run by Adam Thielen and a Captain Munnerlyn fumble return TD, among other things, to take a 20-3 lead and held on for dear life. Aaron Rodgers' hail mary attempt fell harmlessly to the grass as the Vikings won 20-13.
Between the stakes, the rivalry element, and the fact that it was a primetime road game, this was an incredible win for Zimmer and the Vikings. It didn't end up leading to a deep playoff run (thanks, Blair Walsh), but that doesn't take away from how big this moment was.
2. Week 10, 2019: Kirk Cousins flips the script in win over Cowboys
There are several other solid contenders for this second spot, and there may be some recency bias here, but I think Sunday's win might just have been the second-biggest victory of the Zimmer era. It was the type of game the Vikings and their oft-criticized quarterback never seem to win, and they got it done. After the loss to the Chiefs, this feels like a season-turning game.
3. Week 12, 2017: Vikings plant division dagger into Lions on Thanksgiving
2017 was easily the most successful season of the Zimmer era, with the Vikings going 13-3 and making it to the NFC Championship Game. There were a number of big wins during the regular season, but if my memory serves me correctly, this one felt the biggest.
Heading to Detroit on Thanksgiving, the Vikings were 8-2 and the Lions 6-4. A Lions win would've cut the division lead to just a single game and secured the tiebreaker, since the Lions had already beaten the Vikings in Minnesota (that was back in Week 4, in the game where Dalvin Cook tore his ACL). Thanks to a sweep in 2016, the Lions were actually looking for their fourth straight win over the Vikings.
Behind a typically solid Case Keenum, the Vikings took a 20-3 lead and held on for a victory that essentially wrapped up the NFC North. Matthew Stafford had the ball with a chance to tie the game late, but a Xavier Rhodes interception put an end to that.
4. Week 1, 2017: Sam Bradford makes a statement against Saints on MNF
Almost three months before Thanksgiving, the Vikings began the 2017 season with a bang in front of a national audience. This game felt like the beginning of something special. Sam Bradford was absolutely brilliant (27 of 32, 346 yards, 3 touchdowns), Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs both had huge games, and Cook shined with 127 yards in his NFL debut as the Vikings rolled to a 29-19 win.
As it turned out, it was the beginning of a special season. Just not with Bradford under center. He got hurt later in the month and Keenum took over, leading the Vikings to a stretch of 12 wins in 13 games before the NFC title game. That doesn't mean this didn't feel huge, especially since the Saints were clearly a very good team.
5. Week 5, 2018: Vikings get revenge for 38-7 in Philly
Maybe I'm overrating the importance of this game, but I think it belongs on this list. After the soul-crushing beatdown the Eagles handed out to end the 2017 season, this one felt pretty good. The Vikings went to Philly and won, 23-21, behind a great Kirk Cousins performance. Prior to this weekend's game, this was the only real example of Cousins beating a good team on the road in his Vikings career.
Also, the Vikings needed this one! They were 1-2-1 heading into the game and their season was threatening to fall apart. The victory over the defending champs got them back on track, if only for a while.
- Week 12, 2018 against the Packers. The Vikings entered this game 5-4-1, needing a win to stay in the playoff race. The Packers were 4-5-1 and equally desperate. Cousins was incredible (342 yards, 3 TDs) at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football. This was the Vikings' first win against a fully healthy Aaron Rodgers since Sep. 2016.
- Week 3, 2016 against the Panthers. One week after said win over Rodgers, the Vikings moved to 3-0 on the season by taking down Cam Newton and the defending NFC Champs in Charlotte. They would stretch that to 5-0 and then...let's not talk about it.
The Vikings will have more chances to add to this later in this season. A victory in either of the upcoming Monday Night Football games (@ Seattle, vs. Green Bay) would vault pretty close to the top.
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@WillRagatz) if I missed something on this list!