Vikings' main focus is on turnaround
By Howard Ulman, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Brett Favre's drama, Randy Moss' return and Brad Childress' swipe at his own quarterback have turned Minnesota's playoff quest into a soap opera.
It may be a show with a short run, though, especially if the Vikings lose to the New England Patriots on Sunday.
"It's not too late to get this thing rolling," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said, "but, at the same time, there has to be some sort of urgency in there to get things done."
One question dominated all others as the Vikings (2-4) prepared to face the Patriots (5-1), winners of four straight games: Would Favre, despite two fractures around his left ankle, extend his NFL-record streak of 291 consecutive starts, 315 including the playoffs?
On Wednesday, he wore a large boot on his left ankle. On Thursday, only a wrap protected the ankle. On Sunday?
"I wouldn't put anything past me," Favre said Thursday.
The high-profile quarterback has the fourth-poorest passer rating in the league while the NFL investigates allegations that he sent lewd photos and inappropriate text messages to a New York Jets game hostess two years ago.
But the Patriots have the third-worst pass defense -- and Moss could exploit defensive backs he practiced against before New England traded him on Oct. 6 to the team he began his career with in 1998.
That familiarity works both ways, so Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty also could benefit.
"Just working against him every day is probably the biggest challenge I've ever had as a corner," the Patriots first-round choice draft from Rutgers said, "so it helped a great deal."
The trade deprived Tom Brady of his only deep threat, the player who caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes from him in 2007. But Moss had just nine receptions in four games with the Patriots this season.
"I'm glad I don't have to defend him," Brady said. " I'm sure he'll want to come out and have a great game against us."
Adding to strangeness of the occasion, the game falls on Halloween and even the Patriots will be dressing up.
New England players will wear throwback uniforms with red shirts, white pants and the quaint "Pat Patriot" helmet logo. And some fans will likely to show up with Randy Moss masks that have been sold on the player's website.
"There will be a lot of those (masks)," Brady said. "This will be a fun atmosphere -- the throwbacks, the masks, all the different costumes."
Wes Welker, the Patriots receiver who benefited from the extra coverage Moss drew, isn't sure how his former teammate will be received by fans.
"It's tough to say," he said. "It could be 50-50. I think a lot of them will applaud him, just because he did such great things for this organization over the past three or four years. It's hard not to still like the guy and respect what he did for us."
Moss has made a similar impression with the Vikings.
"He's been a positive in the locker room and on the field. He's obviously an 'A' competitor, smart football player," Childress said. "He's been a joy to be around."
Favre? Not so much, apparently.
Childress criticized the quarterback's decisions on three interceptions in last Sunday's 28-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He said after the game that he planned to speak with Favre about the issue of staying "within the confines of our system."
Favre said later, "I think we've been able to talk about things, but we don't necessarily agree. ... I know what's expected of me. I don't need him or anyone else to tell me that."
Then there's the matter of Childress lauding, or criticizing, the Patriots' ability to pick up Minnesota's signals in a 31-7 win over the Vikings in 2006.
"These were some of the all-time great signal stealers," he said.
New England coach Bill Belichick brushed it off, saying, "I'm not really too worried about 2006. I'm worried about this Sunday against Minnesota."
But his motivational side could use that as a perceived slight to fire up his team.
The Patriots have won four straight games and are tied for the NFL's best record with the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. But in their last two games, they had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Baltimore in overtime, then gained just 179 yards in a 23-20 win over San Diego in which they led 20-3 entering the final period.
"We're playing some of our best football sporadically," Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler said. "If we could just string it together for four quarters, I think it would be great. We're too good to be a three-and-out offense."
But the Vikings have the sixth stingiest defense in the NFL, and defensive end Jared Allen said off-field issues haven't been a distraction.
"If you let stuff like that take a toll on you, you're mentally weak in the first place, and this probably isn't the game for you," he said.
If Sunday's game doesn't go Minnesota's way, the team that reached last season's NFC championship round will have an even tougher time simply getting back to the playoffs.
"You've got to keep swinging, you've got to keep working, you've got to keep fighting," Childress said. "You've got to take that journey inside (and say), 'What do I have to get straight, individually? What do we have to get straight, collectively?'
"As long as nobody's afraid to do that, there's no finger-pointing and you have a chance to climb out from the abyss."