Mike Zimmer was already smiling more than usual [url=http://www.nashvillepredatorsteamshop.com/authentic-ryan-johansen-jersey]Authentic Ryan Johansen Jersey[/url] , sporting a relaxed look of satisfaction rarely revealed in public during the NFL season, when he really let his guard down a few minutes into his postgame news conference deep inside Minnesota’s still-buzzing stadium.

”Hey, let’s open these things up!” Zimmer blurted out mid-sentence, prodding a Vikings official to push the button that removes the window shades and allows the premium ticket-holders in an adjacent lounge to peer in the room.

His wish to interact with the customers who cheered the Vikings on to a last-play divisional round victory was granted.

Zimmer then proceeded to slowly and rhythmically clap above his head, dignifying the ritual ”Skol” chant performed by the purple-clad fans at each game honoring the area’s Scandinavian heritage and the team’s nickname.

”You deserve it!” Zimmer said, again interrupting his own answer to acknowledge the crowd.

From peers around the league to players in the locker room to people up and down the organization, there’s a strong sentiment that Zimmer has earned this, too, pulling within one win of a Super Bowl appearance.

The way the Vikings finished their 29-24 victory over New Orleans on a last-chance 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs suggested they’re on some kind of charmed path, an uncharted territory for this championship-deprived franchise. Zimmer, for his part, has experienced his own share of painful setbacks.

”I just think he was so proud of us,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. ”Proud of us for fighting until there were zeros on the clock.”

Zimmer is only here, preparing the Vikings for the NFC title game in Philadelphia on Sunday, because he himself resisted the urge to quit.

After being passed over for so many head coach vacancies during a six-year run as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, Zimmer nearly canceled a second interview in Minnesota in 2014 after a different team that considered him chose a different candidate. He ignored the discouragement in his head [url=http://www.newjerseydevilsteamshop.com/authentic-will-butcher-jersey]Authentic Will Butcher Jersey[/url] , instead accepting the offer to become the ninth head coach in team history at age 57.

”Sometimes you wonder, but I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Zimmer said at his introductory news conference at team headquarters. ”I feel like I was destined to do this.”

That first season, the Vikings improved by two wins to finish 7-9 with rookie Teddy Bridgewater forced into action ahead of schedule at quarterback and running back Adrian Peterson absent for all but one game because of the child abuse case and subsequent NFL discipline dispute he was involved in. In 2015, they went 11-5 and ended Green Bay’s four-year hold on the NFC North title.

The potholes in the road were waiting, though.

Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field-goal try went wide left at the end of the one-point wild-card round loss at home to Seattle.

The 5-0 start in 2016 was washed away by a torrent of season-ending injuries, including Bridgewater, Peterson and several offensive linemen.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned the day after Zimmer had the first of eight eye surgeries to address a torn retina. The third procedure forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career .

The first quarter of the 2017 season brought knee injuries to quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

The Vikings didn’t blink, though, particularly with the experience of 2016 so fresh. Case Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

All of these on-field hurdles have paled next to the pain Zimmer has endured in his personal life. His wife, Vikki, died suddenly in 2009. His father and former high school coach, Bill, passed away during training camp in 2015.

Zimmer was hired by the Vikings because of his acumen as a defensive strategist and teacher [url=http://www.newjerseydevilsteamshop.com/authentic-taylor-hall-jersey]Authentic Taylor Hall Jersey[/url] , having started his 24-year NFL career as the defensive backs coach for Dallas before a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2000.

Calling plays has been his forte, a responsibility he has yet to give up despite his duty as the main man on the staff on game day, but his ability to mold a disciplined, selfless unit from a collection of alpha males and high draft picks helped the Vikings’ defense rank first in the league in 2017 in both fewest yards and points allowed.

Beneath the gruff exterior is a deep affection for his players, an emotion that has caused his voice to crack and his eyes to well up several times over the years in various public discussions of their development or character.

He’s a football coach just like his father, though, and the critical eye and demanding approach are always quick to come out.

”We can’t make these mistakes in playoff games or we’ll be going home,” Zimmer said on Monday, reflecting on the reality of the performance after the euphoria of the winning play had worn off.

Now the Vikings must go on the road to face a team with a 14-3 record just like theirs, the last and biggest obstacle looming before they can experience a Super Bowl.

”We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. ”They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Washington Nationals are far from finished. Not after briefly slipping below .500 this week. And, certainly not after spotting the Miami Marlins the first nine runs on Thursday night.

Trea Turner hit two homers, including his first career grand slam, and drove in eight runs to help Washington rally past Miami 14-12 in a wild slugfest to end a five-game losing streak.

”Not to get ahead of ourselves, put together wins, try to win a series [url=http://www.newjerseydevilsteamshop.com/authentic-nico-hischier-jersey]Authentic Nico Hischier Jersey[/url] ,” first baseman Matt Adams said. ”I think that’s what we’re going to focus on from here on out, win two out of three, win three out of four. If that’s the case, then the wins will start stacking on top of each other and we’ll just get rolling the way we’re capable of.”

The Nationals, who dropped 17 of their previous 22, have won 12 consecutive games against Miami dating to last season – their longest winning streak against any team since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005.

It was also the largest comeback victory since the team left Montreal. The Nationals rallied from eight runs down to defeat Atlanta 13-12 on April 28, 2015.

The victory came a day after the Nationals called a players-only meeting Wednesday after Washington was swept by Boston and slipped under .500 for the first time since May 2.

But things didn’t start smoothly.

Miami scored an unearned run in the first, and capped a six-run second on Martin Prado’s three-run homer off the left-field foul pole. The Marlins made it 9-0 on Justin Bour’s two-run homer in the fourth off Jeremy Hellickson.

Despite the huge deficit, Washington was far from out of it.

Turner led off the fourth with a solo shot off Marlins starter Pablo Lopez, who surrendered four more runs in the fifth – including two on Juan Soto’s double. Adam Conley (2-1) then allowed four of the first five hitters he faced to reach in the sixth before Turner smacked a two-out fastball with the bases loaded into Miami’s bullpen to give the Nationals a stunning 10-9 lead. It was Turner’s third career multi-homer game.

”Command was an issue today, so I wasn’t able to get the ball where I wanted,” Conley said. ”My hat’s off to him. I thought the ball was coming out pretty good today, so for him to get ahold of it, that’s the way the game goes. If the game were easy, everybody would play it.”

Turner added a two-run single in Washington’s four-run seventh. His eight RBIs tied for the most ever by a leadoff hitter, according to STATS LLC.

”When we were down 7-0 [url=http://www.billscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-charles-clay-jersey]Charles Clay Jersey[/url] , I feel like we still for sure had a shot – 9-0, it hurts a little bit more, but we did it,” Turner said. ”I think once we got the first run on the board, it kind of just got the momentum back on our side and we continued to push. I think that’s what we’re capable of.”

Shawn Kelley (1-0) pitched a scoreless sixth for the win. Sean Doolittle earned his 22nd save in 23 opportunities.

Adams had four hits for Washington in his first game since a stint on the disabled list for a broken left index finger.

”Good win, but we still got stuff to do,” manager Dave Martinez said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Marlins: Prado was activated from the disabled list after missing 37 games with a left hamstring strain. … Miami recalled RHP Ben Meyer from Triple-A New Orleans, placed RHP Tayron Guerrero (left lumbar strain) on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to Wednesday and designated OF JB Shuck for assignment. … SS JT Riddle (hip) was scratched from the lineup. … RHP Sandy Alcantara (right axillary infection) is expected to be re-evaluated and begin a throwing progression Monday. … OF Lewis Brinson (right hip) will be re-evaluated Monday.

Nationals: Martinez said the team is optimistic RHP Stephen Strasburg (shoulder inflammation) will be ready to return right after the All-Star break. … 1B Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) will start running the bases Friday or Saturday and could begin a rehabilitation assignment as early as Sunday. … Washington recalled RHP Jefry Rodriguez from Triple-A Syracuse and placed RHP Erick Fedde on the 10-day disabled list. Fedde, who is 1-3 with a 5.79 ERA, left his start Wednesday in the second inning with right shoulder inflammation.

WALK IN THE PARK

Five Nationals who walked eventually scored. Another Washington runner scored after reaching base on a forceout of a player who walked.

”We walked eight guys,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. ”You can’t walk eight guys with that club over there. We let them back in the game.”

UP NEXT

Marlins: RHP Dan Straily (3-4, 4.70 ERA) has held NL East batters to a .202 average in five starts this season, though none of those outings have come against Washington.

Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.77) is winless in his last six starts, but is 10-3 with a 1.85 ERA lifetime against Miami.