DETROIT — Mike Zimmer understands the urgency of his Vikings' situation.
"Our backs are against the wall," Zimmer said after a disastrous 29-27 loss to a previously winless Detroit team on the final play of the game. "But our backs have been against the wall for a while."
And that's a problem.
In a season in which the Vikings appeared to be equipped to at least make things interesting in the NFC North and take their chances in the playoffs, they have spent the season failing to play complete football and had been stung time and time again by their inconsistencies. At 5-7, they are not a lock to qualify for the postseason, and that will not be forgotten during offseason evaluations.
How long does a team have to play in fire-drill mode before everyone realizes that this just might not be the Vikings' season? And everyone includes a fan base and ownership group that entered the season not expecting to be 5-7 after 12 games and running out of time for a significant turnaround.
Zimmer is in his eighth season as head coach and likely understands that.
With five games left in the season, the Vikings need to go 4-1 to finish 9-8. That includes games against the Rams and Packers. It also includes two games against the Bears, and sweeping them is not a cinch after the Vikings allowed the Lions to win their first game of the season. Also, Bears coach Matt Nagy, whose own hot seat is already toasty warm, is 5-1 against the Vikings.
That's how quickly things change.
Two weeks ago, the Vikings had climbed to 5-5 after an impressive win over the Packers and with a favorable part of the their schedule coming up. Two losses later, their room for error has shrunk significantly, so questions about where this is headed are natural.
So, yes, their urgency level is rising by the day, and the Vikings have a short week before facing Pittsburgh on Thursday to get Sunday's bitter loss out of their system.
"Personally, I carry losses with me," a subdued Harrison Smith said. "I know you're supposed to have a 24-hour rule, but if you don't take losses personally, you're not going to be here very long."
On Sunday, the Vikings trailed 20-6 at halftime following two quarters of perplexing football. They had three drives stall and settled for two field goals. Meanwhile, Jared Goff burned the Vikings with a few passes to his tight ends, while the Lions found a way to run the ball effectively.
An agonizing, gut-wrenching, migraine-inducing loss looked inevitable — then Detroit gave the Vikings a chance with the same Detroitness that has plagued its season.
Ahead 23-21, the Lions went for it on fourth and 1 from their own 28, and fumbled the ball away to Blake Lynch. Six plays later, Kirk Cousins hit Justin Jefferson with a 3-yard touchdown pass. After the Vikings two-point conversion try failed — for the third time in the game — they led 27-23 with 1 minute 50 seconds to play.
The Vikings took this gift of a fumble and re-gifted it. Detroit drove 75 yards for the winning score when Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown in the end zone as time expired. Zimmer elected not to pressure Goff, and St. Brown found open space in the end zone despite the Vikings defending a short field.
So that agonizing, gut-wrenching, migraine-inducing loss happened anyway.
The Vikings failed to finish off drives in the first half, needed better two-point conversion plays and couldn't keep the Losing Lions out of the end zone when it really mattered.
Make no mistake, there could be repercussions following this Meltdown in Motown. The Wilf family, regardless of how this season winds up, will look back and realize that the their team was a booming 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph with three seconds left on Oct. 10 from being swept in the season series by the worst team in football.