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Beat the Pack Sunday? Read Here

 

If on Sunday the Vikings can pull their season record to 5-5 with a home win over the 8-2 NFC North Division leading Packers, public momentum for sending Mike Zimmer to the unemployment line drops a few notches.

If by a miracle the coach eventually gurus his club to the playoffs, and then wins a couple of postseason games, let’s start a Zim for governor campaign. Maybe even send him directly to the White House.

As of today, Zimmer cronies have no plans to set up 2022 campaign headquarters downtown, or on the Iron Range where his persona is a perfect fit.

Amidst gloomy skies last week I predicted the Vikings to win in SoCal against the Chargers. Mostly I foresaw a desperately needed victory last Sunday because of the 3-5 Vikings’ slick running game and the Chargers’ flimsy ability to defend it.

The Packers look surprisingly improved on defense this fall, and the balance they have added to an always dangerous offense is why NFL.com has Green Bay No. 1 in its power rankings of league teams. The Packers shut out the Seahawks Sunday and in their last five games have given up just 58 points.

Dalvin Cook (photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

Something to watch for Sunday is if talented linebacker Rashan Gary’s hyperextended elbow allows him to play and help control Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. Packer stud offensive tackle David Bakhtari might return after missing all of the season so far.

Put a question mark near Anthony Barr’s name, too. He missed the Chargers game and his presence is important if the Vikings are to slow Packer power back A.J. Dillon (about 250 pounds). More elusive runner Aaron Jones is injured and won’t play.

Zimmer is 6-7-1 in games against the Packers and Aaron (Houdini) Rodgers. “Our guys have to understand that this guy can make every throw,” Zimmer said Monday. “He can use his legs. He’s very, very smart. He can get them in a lot of good things (situations). So we’re gonna have to be tight in coverage but…we can’t give up big plays as well. They’re spreading the ball around a lot.”

Zimmer won’t pull his career record to .500 against the Packers on Sunday. Nope, not unless Rodgers develops COVID again. He was rusty in his return game last Sunday but the Vikings won’t see more of the layoff effect. At 37 he is playing cocky, looking like a sixth grader toying with fourth graders in a backyard football game. He is still the whole package including amazing elusiveness and poise.

Vikes go to 4-6 Sunday and things will look more dicey for a gubernatorial run.

Worth Noting

Zimmer took a phone call from his friend Deion Sanders during yesterday’s news conference. Asked if Sanders and long time pal Bill Parcells are the biggest headliners in his contact list, Zimmer added Kenny Chesney. “I got a few,” the coach said.

Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins passed for 294 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.5 rating in the win over the Chargers. Cousins became the sixth player ever with at least two touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100-or-higher in seven consecutive road games.

Here is something Cousins doesn’t receive enough praise for: His durability. Dating back to playing with Washington in 2015, he has been in every regular season game but one.

Taylor Heinicke, the vagabond quarterback who was with the Vikings as an undrafted rookie in 2015, seems to have found solid ground in Washington where as the starter he led the team to a surprise win over the Super Bowl champion Bucs Sunday.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck gave no indication at his Monday news conference he intends to change starting quarterbacks. During practices backup Zach Annexstad receives significant repetitions but it doesn’t appear he will replace starter Tanner Morgan whose inaccurate passes have become a trend.

Fleck is loyal to Morgan and the two have been through a lot together. The coach values the redshirt senior’s skills in game management and not turning over the ball.

There are passing game issues at receiver, too, and sophomore redshirt WR Dylan Wright who showed playmaking ability earlier in the year is now used sparingly with indications he isn’t meeting expectations. “Guys earn their playing time,” Fleck answered briefly when responding to a question about Wright’s status.

Stats whiz Daniel House from the Gophers Guru website reports Minnesota ranks 116th in explosive plays out of 130 college football teams.

Fleck reported no significant injuries from the Iowa game, leaving the assumption everyone could be ready for Indiana in Bloomington on Saturday. “We came out pretty healthy.”

Minnesota hockey legend Lou Nanne, 80, enjoys part of the year at his condo in Florida that is just a few miles from the residence of former Gophers football coach Glen Mason, who is also back and forth between Minneapolis and the “sunshine state.”

The former North Stars president and GM remains captivated by second-season Wild forward Kirill Kaprzov. “He’s got skills very few players have,” Nanne said.

Nanne said the NHL Western Conference race is so tight with competitive teams. “It’s going to be crazy.”

The Wild? “They’ll definitely make the playoffs,” he said.

The Land O’Lakes Center for Excellence has many Gophers athletes walk through its halls every day. It’s a welcoming place where athletes greet and open doors for one another and visitors. On one wall are paper signs people have written about what it means to belong. (See photo).

The Wild, Wolves, Gophers hockey and basketball are facing ticket selling challenges. A hockey industry source said season ticket totals for the Wild and Wolves are unusually low at less than 8,000 each. Empty seats at Gopher hockey are some of the best in the arena. Gophers basketball is under 6,000 public season tickets.

With Stan Bowman out as GM for the 2022 US Olympic men’s hockey team it seems Wild boss Bill Guerin could move up from assistant GM.

The Wild can break series ties with rivals this week at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild face the Sharks (34-34-8 all-time) tonight and Thursday evening the Stars (33-33-13). The Stars game is a homecoming for defenseman Ryan Suter who is second all-time in franchise assists for the Wild, and second in points and games played.

Chris Wright, the recently retired United executive and before that president of the Timberwolves, will keep homes in Eden Prairie and Naples, Florida, plus visiting his 98-year-old mom in his native England.

Dave Mona, former co-host of the “WCCO Radio Sports Huddle,” will co-host with wife Linda a Fan in the Stands trip for the station and Holiday Vacations to Fort Myers to watch Twins spring training March 15-20.

Dick Jonckowski, Minnesota’s prominent master of ceremonies, emcees the Minnesota Old Timers Hockey luncheon at Mancini’s Char House November 22.

Lynx GM and coach Cheryl Reeve was the keynote speaker Friday at the annual meeting of the Twin Cities Compensation Network. Her comments included gender equity.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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