The Minnesota Vikings were officially eliminated from playoff contention Saturday after a 38-25 defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, and one contributing factor was that the defensive backs failed to execute a key element of the defensive game plan throughout the first half.
According to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said the defensive backs decided against putting extra coverage on Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the first half:
A matter of fact, forget it. We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we'd never done that when we played against the Packers. Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That's how we felt as DBs that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we'd always played against them and played our sides, so that's what we as DBs went with.
With no one paying extra attention to Nelson in the game's first 30 minutes, he proceeded to go off for 145 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions.
ESPN.com's Ben Goessling noted on Sunday that ESPN's Adam Schefter was told by "a well-placed Vikings source" that the "Vikings defensive backs freelanced on only the first series."
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Monday morning that his sources said, "[Rhodes] told [Zimmer] he felt compelled to listen to [Newman’s] instructions." Rapoport added, "In the [first quarter], Rhodes informed Zimmer that Newman told him the vet could cover [Nelson]. Rhodes relented, then covered for Newman postgame."
Newman spoke on Monday, saying he had "no idea" there was an issue with the execution of the game plan on Saturday.
"It was a miscommunication," Newman told reporters. "That's it."
Zimmer backed up that assertion on Monday, telling reporters he "changed a couple calls later in the week" and "probably wasn't specific enough" about his expectations. The head coach added there was "no intent" to intentionally alter the game plan.
"[Newman] would be the last guy ever in the world to be belligerent or go against what we want him to do," Zimmer said.
The Vikings did eventually get on the same page defensively in the second half, with Rhodes helping to shadow Nelson, and it paid off as the Packers receiver had just two catches after the intermission. The miscommunication in the first half did draw the ire of Zimmer after the game, though.
"That’s what he was supposed to do the whole game," Zimmer said. "Someone decided they wouldn’t do that."
NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders commented on the Vikings defensive backs on Saturday, courtesy of NFL.com's Nick Shook:
Zimmer probably doubles that with his years in the NFL. Not only is he a really good head coach, he was also my coach, and I know how much he puts into studying and having you prepared. So if he asks you to flop, that's because of a purpose. He sees a tendency.
... I'm sure the defense that he called and he wanted them to be in was something to prevent those big plays that we saw [Nelson] make. But these 'rocket scientists' felt like they know more than the darn coach, and we're going to get together and come up with our own scheme. How are you going to come up with your own scheme?
By the time the Vikings figured things out, they were trailing 28-13 at the end of the first half. The loss capped off a historic season for the franchise, though not in the way it would have liked, with Krammer providing the bad news:
The Vikings have gone just 2-8 since winning their first five games of the season. This marks the third time in four seasons Minnesota will not be in the postseason, though it can still salvage a .500 campaign with a win over the Chicago Bears in Week 17.