It seems like it should have been a much bigger story, NFL players suggesting they deliberately went against the instructions of their coach, but maybe it didn’t gain a lot of traction because of the Christmas holiday.
Still, for Minnesota Vikings defensive backs to imply, as they did on Saturday night after their loss to the Green Bay Packers, that they covered Packers’ receiver Jordy Nelson in the way they – not head coach Mike Zimmer and the assistant coaches – felt was best counts as a shocking revelation.
Zimmer’s game plan called for cornerback Xavier Rhodes to shadow Nelson, but in the first half, Rhodes, Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn all covered Nelson. Nelson had seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
In the second half, with only Rhodes covering him, Nelson had just two catches for nine yards.
Not as surprising, however, is that by Monday afternoon, when the Vikings had media access with Zimmer and players once again, the incident was downplayed ad nauseum as a “miscommunication.”
Via Minneapolis Star Tribune beat reporter Matt Vensel, Rhodes used “miscommunication” eight times as he spoke, and downplayed the incident as something that was straightened out after the first defensive series, not the first half.
“It was just a little miscommunication for a series. We handled it after the first series. That was about it,” Rhodes said.
Terence Newman used the “m” word six times.
Rhodes told reporters they got the story partially wrong on Saturday, even though he was directly quoted as saying, “We felt as a tea, as players, we came together and felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers. Us as DBs felt like we could handle [Nelson].”
When Zimmer spoke on Monday, he said Rhodes sometimes “gets nervous about things and says it,” but that he believes Rhodes didn’t mean to imply that players directly contracted the coaches’ game plan, and also placed some of the blame on himself.
“When I talked to him, I don’t think he really felt like that’s what he meant to say. Xavier’s a great kid,” Zimmer said, later adding, “We changed a couple calls later in the week. I probably wasn’t specific enough in the things I was asking them to do.”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted on Monday morning that the 38-year old Newman, a 14-year veteran, led the charge to have players’ do what they felt was best in the first half but Zimmer said Newman “would be the last guy ever in the world to be belligerent or go against what we want him to do.”
But as they tried to downplay things, Zimmer’s quote from Saturday was still fresh on reporters’ minds; after the game, Zimmer said “somebody decided they wouldn’t do that” when asked why Rhodes wasn’t covering Nelson for some plays in the first half.
Again, Zimmer blamed himself on Monday.
“Typically when we lose and we don’t play good on the back end I get upset. So there’s a lot of different things I was upset about,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t be as honest after games as I typically am. And I learned my lesson.”
At least one thing is clear: We may never know exactly what happened.