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Zimmer says don't write Vikings off

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--Wailing sirens pierced a lazy summer afternoon as the ambulance barreled into Winter Park on Tuesday to medivac fallen Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a hospital, leaving teammates, coaches and fans to pick up the pi...

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-Wailing sirens pierced a lazy summer afternoon as the ambulance barreled into Winter Park on Tuesday to medivac fallen Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a hospital, leaving teammates, coaches and fans to pick up the pieces of a shattered season.

No doubt players will preach perseverance and close ranks around unelected leader Shaun Hill, their starting quarterback for the moment - a 36-year-old journeyman with more defeats than victories in 34 scattered starts.

A defiant coach Mike Zimmer promised resolve and dared skeptics to write off the defending NFC North champions after Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee and torn ACL in practice, a season-ending injury that will require surgery.

"We're not going to stick our heads in the sand," Zimmer said. "We're going to figure out a way. Everybody can count us out if they want. That would be the wrong thing to do."

Every NFL coach needs a minor in crisis management to shepherd unpredictable rosters of 53 testosterone-fueled behemoths whose job security hinges on their ability to physically manhandle the dude in front of them.

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Zimmer walked into a firestorm in 2014 before the paint was dry in his office, managing the loss for 15 games of scandalized running back and 2012 league MVP Adrian Peterson.

Now the third-year coach faces the toughest challenge of his coaching life.

Zimmer channeled his inner Dick Vermeil, who vowed his 1999 St. Louis Rams would not wither after losing starting quarterback Trent Green to the same knee injury in the third preseason game.

Unheralded backup Kurt Warner revealed a red "S" on his chest and led the Rams to 13 wins and a Super Bowl championship.

Fairy tales are nice and all, but Zimmer is a harsh realist. He must push back against creeping self-doubt and devastation wrought by the sudden demise of the Vikings' most important player and convince his crestfallen team that all hope is not lost.

There was another round of phone calls late Tuesday to his mentor Bill Parcells, who no doubt spit out a mouthful of roofing nails and cursed the weakness of self-pity.

During an outdoor news conference, Zimmer pointed skyward and drew spiritual guidance from his late father, Bill, about how the old ball coach could handle adversity.

"He always found a way to do it," Zimmer said of his dad. "So we're going to figure out a way."

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Yet there was no escaping the pall cast over the franchise's soaring expectations as an untouched Bridgewater collapsed in the pocket early during full-team drills on the north end of the practice field.

You could hear a leaf hit the turf as medical staff rushed to Bridgewater, who lay prone on his right side, clutching at his left knee as he peeled off his helmet.

A cart was quickly summoned. Teammates knelt in prayer or turned away, too shaken to absorb the unsettling scene.

The silence was broken by the F-bombs screamed and helmets slammed by right guard Brandon Fusco and linebacker Eric Kendricks reacting viscerally to the gravity of Bridgewater's predicament and the destructive impact on their season.

Zimmer immediately canceled practice. Players were shooed off the field. Media was dismissed as Peterson, fellow running back Matt Asiata and wide receiver Adam Thielen locked arms and knelt around Bridgewater in apparent prayer.

"We're going to grieve today and be upset about it," Zimmer said. "It's more about our feelings for Teddy and him as a person and getting better than it is about anything else. Teddy is a great kid, and he'll be back as soon as he possibly can. And if it's real bad, we're going to keep fighting."

Zimmer pounded his left fist on the podium as he ticked off names of superstars and leaders he is counting on to galvanize the locker room.

"We have guys like Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith and Brian Robison and Anthony Barr and Kyle Rudolph and Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil, (Joe) Berger, and Fusco, Andre Smith," he said. "I can go down the line. I'll take them with me any day."

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Zimmer's message and tone were pitch-perfect in the immediate aftermath. The grinding work lies ahead.

Optimism about the Vikings was raging entering the 2016 season, and for good reason. Minnesota's playmaking defense is poised to become one of the most intimidating units in the NFL.

Moreover, Bridgewater's precision during the preseason, his self-assured throws during Sunday's first-half two-minute drill and the unwavering faith teammates have in the third-year quarterback's potential for greatness fueled greater confidence.

Last week's public kerfuffle about Bridgewater's wonky throwing shoulder felt like playground drama Tuesday afternoon as he underwent a battery of tests on his mangled leg.

Fatalism is bone-deep among Vikings fans who have suffered through Shakespearean tragedies when it comes to the franchise's enduring failures.

Maybe Peterson, at 31, can carry the burden of an outdated rushing game and spare Hill from trying to lead a downfield passing attack that has eluded him over his pedestrian 14-year career.

Or the Vikings' tenacious D will raise the collective stakes and lock down a bunch of low-scoring victories to keep hope alive.

Perhaps everyone will have to wait for next year, assuming Bridgewater heals well and is able to rekindle his potential.

Context matters.

"It's tough today, but tomorrow the sun's going to ... " Zimmer said, his thoughts turning personal.

"Hey, my wife passed away seven years ago, right? It was a tough day; the sun came up the next day. The world kept spinning. People kept going to work. That's what we're going to do."

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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