The last time the Vikings prepared to face the Packers, Minnesota had started 7-2 and seemed to be ready to hold serve at home against Green Bay.
And then came the ill-advised T-shirt.
“Beat Green Bay” declared the piece of clothing that awaited the Vikings following a road win against the Raiders. And then Green Bay proceeded not to beat Minnesota but to dismantle them, with a 30-13 defeat that was the first stumble in what became a 1-3 run.
Since narrowly losing earlier this month at Arizona (where Green Bay wasn’t beaten but blown out on Sunday), the Vikings have scored a pair of lopsided wins at home, outscoring the Bears and Giants by the combined margin of 87-34.
So will the T-shirts return for the Green Bay rematch?
“No T-shirts, no T-shirts this week,” Zimmer told reporters after Sunday night’s 49-17 thrashing of the Giants.
A tangible source of rah-rah may not be necessary this time around. The difference could come from the fact that the Vikings now realize they can compete with the Packers.
“I think we’re playing with confidence right now,” Zimmer said. “I think our guys feel good about the things we’re doing. I think they believe and half of the battle is believing. When I was in Cincinnati at the early stages of when I was there, we played somebody, a good football team, I can’t remember exactly who it was and they beat us that day and they said, ‘You know those guys, they have a good football team, they just have to believe.’ I talked to the defense about it and we started believing that we were a good football team. I think our guys believe that we are.”
That belief likely wasn’t there after losing badly at home to the Packers and Seahawks. But the vibe has since changed, with the spark possibly coming on a close-but-no-cigar effort against the Cardinals that apparently made the Vikings believe that they’re good enough to compete with the best teams in the conference.
Now, they have an opportunity to be the best team in the division.
“[I]f you would have told me in July that we’d have a chance the last game of the year to go January 3rd and play for a division title, I would have been excited about it,” Zimmer said. “It’s still going to come down to executing and doing the things right. We’ve said all along, we’ve played good on the road this year, but we haven’t beaten Green Bay, so that’s something we’ve got to get done.”
It’s something they may have to try to get done in consecutive weeks, depending on what happens between the Seahawks and Cardinals. An immediate wild-card rematch is possible, with the second game meaning a lot more than the first.
A win by the Vikings prevents a rubber match, however; with the Packers at 10-5 and the Seahawks at 9-6 and Green Bay holding the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a win over Seattle way back in Week Two, a Packers loss means Seattle would be the No. 6 seed no matter whether the Seahawks win, lose, or tie in Week 17.
Which means that a win next Sunday night by the Vikings against one of the two teams that beat them at home this season would give the Vikings a shot at redemption against the other. After the 30-13 loss to the Packers, the Seahawks showed up and ran roughshod over the Vikings, 38-7.
The players and coaches may believe that those two outcomes will be different this time around. The team’s fans may be a little more skeptical, given the team’s recent history of failing to show up for big games — Arizona notwithstanding.