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Mike Zimmer: Justin Jefferson was “frustrated” when he spoke after Sunday’s loss

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 09: Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on in the second quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 9, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

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Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson had plenty to say about energy and play calling after Sunday’s 30-23 loss to the Rams, an outcome that basically requires the team to jam a gjallarhorn through the eye of a needle in order to get to the playoffs.

On Monday, coach Mike Zimmer downplayed Jefferson’s remarks.

I think Justin was just frustrated,” Zimmer said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Hey, we’re all frustrated when we don’t win the game. We all get frustrated. We all say things 10 minutes after the game that we wish we wouldn’t have. . . . In my opinion, he just wants to win. And part of that is he wants to get the ball if he can. And I don’t think he’s calling out anybody. That’s not the type of person he is.”

But why does someone have to be a certain “type of person” to speak the truth? Zimmer isn’t afraid to speak him mind. Is he a bad “type of person”?

Jefferson quite possibly had internalized his frustrations through a season of obvious and at times inexcusable underachievement by the Vikings. Before Sunday, they’d built a lead in every game. For whatever reason, they’d lost focus in almost every game. Easy wins became nail biters. Tough, hard-earned wins became losses.

As to the play calling issues, Jefferson said on Sunday, “I think we should be more aggressive when we get down there [in the red zone], as soon as we get down there. But I’m not the one calling the plays. I’m just here to do my job and do what’s told to me.” Jefferson also said that the Vikings “came out way too slow” and “didn’t have the energy [in] the first quarter.”

“I addressed the energy level pregame and tried to make sure they were getting going and ready to go out and play,” Zimmer said Monday, via Tomasson. “We just didn’t start well, but we came back and the energy level got up.”

The fact that Zimmer actually addressed the energy level before the game doesn’t make it any better, because whatever he did didn’t work. Given the tendency of the team to coast when leading late in the game, it’s clear that energy lapses aren’t some new and foreign challenge. It’s a fundamental problem that has kept a team with the talent to make it to the postseason from getting there.

So where, when that happens, does the buck stop?

Jefferson’s comments should be regarded by Minnesota as a potential first step down the same slippery slope that resulted in Stefon Diggs eventually wanting out, and getting his wish. Frankly, that’s not a problem for Zimmer to worry about for now. If they don’t find a path to the playoffs in the next 12 days, it quite possibly will never be Zimmer’s problem.