Mike Zimmer didn’t know what to tell the Vikings when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic knee injury 12 days before the regular season started, so he called Bill Parcells.
The two-time Super Bowl champion coach sounded like Zimmer’s late father Bill, who coached for 34 years at southwest suburban Lockport High School.
“You gotta figure out how to win with the team you have,” the Vikings coach said this week. “My dad used to tell me when he was coaching down in Lockport, he used to always try to figure out a way how to win with the team he had. That’s kinda what we’re trying to do here.”
The Vikings are 5-1 — despite being without Bridgewater and their once-in-a-generation running back, Adrian Peterson, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus Sept. 22.
By contrast, the Bears, who have bemoaned injuries all season, are 1-6 entering Monday night’s matchup with Minnesota.
In a sport that spits out platitudes with each injury report — “Next man up” makes the unconvincing presumption the promoted player on the depth chart is as good as the one he’s replacing — the Vikings are proof it’s possible to thrive.
“It’s not quite as bad, but I liken it to the day seven years ago when my wife (Vikki) passed away,” Zimmer said. “You grieve and people say how awful it is and everything, and then you realize that the world is not gonna stop. You gotta keep going.
“It was not the same, but we’ve all had to deal with adversity in sports and life.”
Can the Vikings’ success be instructive for the Bears?
Coach John Fox hinted the Vikings had more talent to begin with — “I think a lot of it is the starting point,” he said — and made the almost unprecedented decision to trade a first-round pick for quarterback Sam Bradford.
“They’ve been in their building process for some time now,” Fox said.
His implication, of course, is that his Bears have not.
The Vikings have seven former first-round picks on defense alone; the Bears will have only one on offense and one on defense Monday if Kyle Long sits out.
“I think every situation is different,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Their defense hadn’t been hindered much. They’ve played excellent defense and they’ve kind of compensated for it on offense.”
Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon have platooned in Peterson’s place this season, averaging only 3.3 and 3.2 yards per carry, respectively. McKinnon won’t play Monday, though, after wearing a walking boot on his left foot this week. Former Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman could get snaps in his place.
Fangio called Asiata and McKinnon “damn good backs,” and that the Vikings had “good depth” to replace Peterson earlier this year.
“I know those are two players they don’t like to lose, but they had depth there,” he said. “And then they went out and got depth (at quarterback).”
Bradford has been sharp since starting the team’s second game, ranking eighth in the NFL with a 100.3 passer rating. Bradford, who has thrown for 1,214 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception, said that it took “a second for everyone to catch their breath” when the two were hurt.
“I think one of the things I noticed about this team and this locker room when I first got here was just how close it was and how tight the guys in this locker room are,” he said. “That’s not the case everywhere. I think if that wasn’t the case here, I don’t think they woulda been able to respond the way they did when those guys went down.”
Their talent helps, though. More than locker-room good feelings and rah-rah speeches, that’s what has separated the Bears from the Vikings this season.
“They always had a pretty good defense,” Bears cornerback Tracy Porter said. “They rallied behind that defense, they got a quarterback in.
“And they just didn’t let it stop their ship from moving.”