Why did a pair of Vikings defensive backs go off script to create their own ill-fated game plan in Saturday's ugly 38-25 loss to the Packers?
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Xavier Rhodes went into the contest planning to follow the orders of coach Mike Zimmer, who tasked the cornerback with shadowing Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, per two sources informed of the situation.
Early in the game, though, veteran cornerback Terence Newman told Rhodes that he could also cover Nelson, suggesting the two defenders simply stay on their respective sides of the field.
Pressured by the 38-year-old Newman, Rhodes, in his fourth season, allowed the veteran to do as he pleased, Rapoport was told.
When Rhodes was eventually confronted by Zimmer on the sideline, he explained the difficult decision he faced: listen to his coach or Newman, a respected leader of Minnesota's defense.
Newman's on-the-fly game plan only lasted two series, after reviewing the film -- Rhodes began flipping sides to cover Nelson on the third Green Bay possession, with Newman on the sideline -- but Nelson had already done plenty of damage en route to a seven-catch, 145-yard, two-touchdown first half. With Rhodes shadowing Nelson over the final two quarters, the wideout caught just two passes for nine yards.
After the game, Rhodes refused to blame Newman, telling reporters: "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. Us as DBs felt like we could handle him."
On Monday, Zimmer took pains to downplay the incident.
"I talked to them all yesterday. We changed a couple calls later in the week, I probably wasn't specific enough in the things I was asking them to do," Zimmer said. "The one thing about it is, Xavier and Terence, these guys are as good of people as there is in the world. They're going to do their best every single time. They come out and they work every single day. They study, and they're really good kids. I could have been more specific."
Asked if either Newman or Rhodes ignored the game plan, Zimmer said "they played the coverage that was called, but they might have messed it up," noting: "I can think of one specifically: There was one where we were playing a man within a zone, and both guys played zone, and we turned a guy loose. There's things like that, but that happens every day."
Asked again if his players intentionally went off book, Zimmer emphasized: "No. Never."
Zimmer instead said that Rhodes was out of position for "one series, and I talked to him on the sideline, and that was that," adding: "I don't know why (Rhodes) would say (it was longer) ... we corrected after the first series."
For his part, Newman on Saturday refused to comment on the issue beyond saying: "Nothing. I have no idea."
On Monday, the veteran defender again denied ignoring Zimmer's game plan, saying: "It was a miscommunication. That's it."
According to Rapoport's sources, though, Newman not only knew about the plan -- he came up with it, and went about pulling the younger Rhodes into his misguided plot.