Coach Mike Zimmer and Vikings starting cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman insisted Monday that “miscommunication” resulted in Rhodes and Newman swapping assignments early in Saturday’s loss at Green Bay, and that the players did not intentionally disregard the defensive game plan.
“It was just a little miscommunication for a series. We handled it after the first series. That was about it,” Rhodes said Monday at his locker stall.
But while the so-called miscommunication appeared to last only one series before it was corrected by the Vikings coaching staff, the confusion continued Monday as the trio denied that the players were insubordinate, as Rhodes himself suggested after Saturday’s 38-25 loss to the Packers.
Zimmer’s game plan called for Rhodes, a Pro Bowl cornerback, to cover top Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson whenever he lined up on the outside. But during the first Packers possession Saturday, Rhodes remained at the right cornerback spot, leading to Newman matching up with Nelson.
On one of those plays, Nelson beat Newman for a 15-yard reception.
There was another play in the second quarter, on Green Bay’s fourth drive of the game, when Newman covered Nelson on the left side of the field.
At his postgame news conference, Zimmer said “somebody decided they wouldn’t do that” when asked why Rhodes didn’t trail Nelson early on. So the media immediately tracked down Rhodes for an explanation.
“We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers,” he said then. “Us as [defensive backs] felt like we could handle him. … So that’s what we went with.”
Rhodes added that the players made the decision during practice last week.
Zimmer was asked Monday why the 26-year-old said that if it wasn’t true.
“When I talked to him, I don’t think he really felt like that’s what he meant to say,” Zimmer said. “Xavier’s a great kid. Sometimes he gets nervous about things and says [things he doesn’t mean], but I don’t think that’s the case.”
Asked if Rhodes might have simply said the wrong thing while trying to avoid placing blame on one of his Vikings teammates, Zimmer said, “Possibly.”
Zimmer also said he didn’t know why Rhodes said after Nelson’s monster first half that the coaching staff did not correct Rhodes and Newman until halftime.
“It was one series. I talked to him on the sideline and that was that,” he said.
Zimmer mentioned at his Monday afternoon news conference that he spoke with Rhodes and Newman on Sunday about what happened. Earlier in the day, Newman said the players had not met with Zimmer at any point after the game.
After getting a couple of days to huddle up after Rhodes’ comments made national headlines, with some analysts wondering if Zimmer had lost control of his 7-8 team and others calling for the cornerbacks to be disciplined, the buzzword the Vikings settled on for Monday was “miscommunication.”
Newman said the m-word six times. Not to be outdone, Rhodes said it eight times when given an opportunity to clarify his postgame comments.
At one point, Rhodes, now in his fourth NFL season, grumbled to reporters about how they got the story at least partially wrong after the game, when all they did was quote him saying that he and Newman decided to do their own thing.
“Everything was a miscommunication. We fixed it after the first series,” said Rhodes, who acknowledged that it “obviously was the game plan” to have him trail Nelson whenever the Packers wideout lined up on the outside.
Ironically, most of Nelson’s nine catches for 154 yards and both of his two first-half receiving touchdowns came after Nelson lined up in the slot.
Newman, who pleaded ignorance Saturday after the game, said Monday that there was “a little gray area” in the game plan on how Nelson should be handled, and that coaches straightened it out after one series.
“We changed a couple calls later in the week,” Zimmer said, backing him up. “I probably wasn’t specific enough in the things I was asking them to do.”
But if Rhodes and Newman sticking on their respective sides was no big deal, why did Zimmer opt to point out after Saturday’s game that they defied him?
“Typically when we lose and we don’t play good on the back end, I get upset,” Zimmer, 25-22 as Vikings coach, said Monday.
“I probably shouldn’t be as honest after games as I typically am. And I learned my lesson.”
Both Zimmer and Newman denied that Newman encouraged Rhodes to play on their respective sides instead of following the game plan, as was reported by NFL Network.
Zimmer said that to his knowledge, there was no conscious decision made by any player to intentionally go against his defensive game plan.
“Terence and I have an unbelievable relationship. He can come talk to me about anything at any time,” Zimmer said.
“Terence would be the last guy ever in the world to ever be belligerent or go against anything that we do.”