Mike Zimmer sidesteps questions on future with Minnesota Vikings in possible last game with franchise

MINNEAPOLIS -- Following a 31-17 come-from-behind win over the Chicago Bears, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer did not want to reflect on his career in Minnesota in what might have been his final game after eight seasons.

Amid speculation that he could be fired following the season finale after the Vikings missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Zimmer said he had not heard anything about his job status or whether the Week 18 contest was his last as head coach.

"It's not my choice," Zimmer said. "It's not my decision."

"Let's not go there today," he added. "You want to talk about it tomorrow, then let's talk about it tomorrow. But this isn't time to reflect for eight years."

Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr, who was Zimmer's first draft pick in 2014 and is an upcoming free agent, addressed the speculation that has circulated for weeks about Zimmer's future.

"Nah, it doesn't upset me," Barr said. "Like I said, that's the nature of the business. There's always going to be finger-pointing. And he's the head coach; he's going to have the most responsibility. That's just kind of the way it is. It's unfortunate. I wish we would've been able to eke out a couple more wins in those tight situations, but the ball didn't bounce our way in some games, we didn't put ourselves in position."

The Vikings finished with an 8-9 record and a second-place finish in the NFC North at the end of Zimmer's eighth season. The Vikings coach has two playoff wins in three appearances -- in 2015, 2017 and 2019. This is the first time under Zimmer's guidance that Minnesota missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

A Week 17 loss at the Green Bay Packers put Minnesota out of playoff contention, but Zimmer opted to field starters in the season finale against Chicago. Even without postseason implications on the line, the Vikings had several things to play for, including Justin Jefferson's goal of breaking the franchise single-season receiving yards record (1,632), which has been held by Randy Moss since 2003.

Jefferson entered the day needing 124 yards to set the new record. After a slow start during which the wide receiver had two catches for 32 yards in the first half, Jefferson caught a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to get closer to history.

He was just 17 yards away from breaking Moss' record when quarterback Kirk Cousins went to Jefferson on a screen pass on the Vikings' second-to-last drive with 4:42 to play in the game. Jefferson dropped that pass, and Minnesota ran the ball on back-to-back possessions, including a draw play with third-string running back Kene Nwangwu on third-and-14, instead of giving Jefferson another shot.

On Minnesota's final possession, Cousins handed the ball off to running back Alexander Mattison on first down, which resulted in a chorus of boos from the crowd inside U.S. Bank Stadium, and the quarterback then took a knee to end the game on second down.

Zimmer said he was aware of what Jefferson needed to set the record.

"I don't care about records," Zimmer said. "All I care about is wins."

Cousins said the record was at the forefront all week, and he reflected postgame on wanting to do more to help the wideout reach another historic mark. On his second touchdown pass of the fourth quarter, Cousins said he wished he could "hit the reset button" to go to a wide-open Jefferson instead of K.J. Osborn to give the Pro Bowl receiver the record and a second touchdown on the afternoon.

"We talked all week, really," Cousins said of Jefferson. "I mentioned it at his locker earlier this week that I'm aware of it. I didn't want him to ever think that I'm not aware of it and that I want to help him as best I can. He understands as a professional that the win comes first and we've got to play the game. You're not going to go chasing it. But we were close. He had another great game. It doesn't take away from the fact that he had a great game and a great season."

Like Zimmer, Cousins' future beyond the 2021 season will be a focal point for the Vikings this offseason. The quarterback enters the final year of his contract in 2022 that comes with a $45 million cap hit, and if the franchise opts to change course with its leadership, it might decide to move on from its signal-caller after four seasons.

Last week, the quarterback said he wants to be with the Vikings for the rest of his career. When asked postgame about potentially lessening the burden Minnesota faces financially with him accounting for over 21% of the team's salary cap, the quarterback reiterated that he wants to remain with the Vikings.

"It's hard to have these conversations when I haven't given it any thought and don't know any of those numbers," Cousins said. "But I know that I want to be a Viking, and that's kind of the foundation of it all. From there, it's pretty easy to make those conversations happen when you want to be a Minnesota Viking."