Vikings win to stay in playoff huntby William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio
If things continue to roll their way, the Minnesota Vikings could wrap up a spot in the National Football League playoffs as soon as this Sunday. The Vikings are on a five-game winning streak after Monday night's 20-13 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears.
Minneapolis — The win keeps the Vikings on pace for the playoffs, and continues a dramatic reversal after the team struggled through the first half of the season.
Lots of pro football games are played on Sunday, but only one on Monday. That contest tends to get more than its share of attention from the nation's sports writers and broadcasters.
This week the common story line was, "What's up with those purple guys in Minnesota? How can a team lose five of its first seven games, then turn around and win six of its next seven?"
When a version of that question was posed to the architecht of this winning streak, Vikings head coach Brad Childress peered through his spectacles and explained the turnaround in unglamorous, workmanlike terms, perhaps fitting for flyover land.
"Just brick by brick. I mean, we've been really play by play and gone practice to practice," said Childress. "We're not good enough to look out over the horizon, we've really got to take them one game at a time. I know that's trite, but that's how we've looked at it."
Minnesota players also provide no dramatic tales of turning points. Linebacker Chad Greenway says even after the Vikings were demolished 34-0 by the Green Bay Packers, coach Childress shunned any changes and kept the team focused on the immediate task at hand.
"We stayed the course. We don't think too far ahead, we take it one game at a tiime," said Greenway. "The biggest thing that I think has changed is our preparation. We're a little more focused during the week, and we know what we need to do to win a football game. But it doesn't get any easier next week."
The Vikings are a young team. Greenway, for example, is in only his second pro season and missed his first year due to an injury. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is also a second-year pro who played sparingly as a rookie.
Inexperience sometimes breeds mistakes, but the Vikings are working on learning from those. Jackson had plenty of learning opportunities against the Bears, as he fumbled the ball away once and threw three interceptions.
But Jackson said he employed the team philosophy of focusing on small increments, and not getting discouraged.
"You can't dwell on it. The most important play is the next play. I turned the football over. I understand what I did wrong, what happened. And so, just move on," Jackson said. "We still had a game to play, and we rallied and we won the football game. That's a part of my job, to move on. As a quarterback you've got to have a short memory."
Tripped up by their turnovers, the Vikings fell 10 points behind Chicago, then recovered slightly with a field goal just before halftime.
Safety Darren Sharper, one of the veterans on the team, says there was a time when the Vikings might have been rattled by the sort of struggles they encountered in the first half against the Bears. But Sharper says now the team can take a seven-point halftime deficit in stride.
"The coach said not to panic, just come out to play. The offense had the ball first. So the attitude was we were going to go and score on the first drive. But we weren't panicking at all because there was lot of football left to be played," said Sharper.
The Vikings defense held Chicago scoreless after halftime, with Sharper's interception squelching the Bears' last chance.
On offense, Minnesota's running game finally got untracked in the second half, with rookie Adrian Peterson scoring both of the Vikings' touchdowns.
Peterson's running -- specifically his knack for breaking loose for long runs -- has been a key element in Minnesota's offense this year. The Vikings have tied a team record for most times gaining 50 yards or more on a play, accomplishing that 19 times.
There's no doubt that Peterson's speed helps account for that statistic. But he says the abundance of big plays starts with good blocking, especially by the starting linemen, Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, Matt Birk, Anthony Herrera, and Ryan Cook.
"It starts up front with the offensive line - Matt Birk, Hutch, Big Mac -- and those receivers outside, they're doing a great job downfield," said Peterson. "So those are really all the ingredients that have contributed to the big runs we've had this year."
Peterson has shared the running duties with Chester Taylor, and says splitting the workload has helped each stay fresh. Tackle McKinnie says slight differences in the running styles of Peterson and Taylor also help keep opposing defenses from getting too comfortable.
The Vikings will play their last home game of the season against the Washington Redskins on Sunday night in another nationally televised game.
If their closest competitors for the final playoff spot -- the New Orleans Saints -- lose their game Sunday, then Minnesota could lock up a post-season berth with a victory.
- Morning Edition, 12/18/2007, 7:25 a.m.