Vikings' confidence starting to escalate
EDEN PRAIRIE -- The Minnesota Vikings have clearly gained confidence, with four wins in their last five games -- including two in a row on the road. Whether they're all that much better now than the pitiful performances they scattered throughout ...
EDEN PRAIRIE -- The Minnesota Vikings have clearly gained confidence, with four wins in their last five games -- including two in a row on the road.
Whether they're all that much better now than the pitiful performances they scattered throughout September and October remains to be seen.
This much is certain. They can't delude themselves into thinking everything is fixed.
"We've got to make sure that we don't become too smart all of a sudden," a bleary-eyed coach Mike Tice said Tuesday, after the Vikings rallied to beat the Green Bay Packers 20-17. "It's not the week to not take good notes and it's not the week to start feeling good about ourselves. We still have some things we're stubbing our toe on ... We've got a lot of work to do."
Minnesota (5-5) has ensured that these last six games will count for something other than draft-pick position and resume-building. Bravado is building in Chicago, where the Bears have a two-game lead in the NFC North, a reliable running attack and a dominant defense.
But the Vikings play them at home in the regular-season finale on New Year's Day. If they can continue to move the ball when they really need to, get strong production from their special teams and force turnovers and fourth downs on defense, they ought to be able to hang around and keep Chicago from becoming too comfortable.
"Hopefully Chicago will lose down the road," said quarterback Brad Johnson, who is 3-0 as a starter since replacing the injured Daunte Culpepper. "We've just got to keep winning. Keep ourselves in the hunt."
The offense is still ranked 25th in the league in total yardage, but for the second time in the last three weeks, Minnesota managed to run the ball effectively -- especially in the second half.
Tice made more changes to his frequently shuffled offensive line during Monday night's game, inserting Anthony Herrera at left guard when Toniu Fonoti -- who started in Chris Liwienski's place -- left with a strained groin. And rookie Marcus Johnson replaced Mike Rosenthal at right tackle. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is the only one who has started all 10 games.
The 37-year-old Johnson was again adept at orchestrating drives in critical situations, even if many of his throws weren't pretty and he took five more sacks -- fumbling twice and losing one.
No, this Vikings offense is nowhere close to the one that set an NFL scoring record in 1998, the last time they swept the Packers.
"We're not going to go out and score 35, 40 points much, unless we get a bunch of turnovers," Tice said, "so we've got to be able to play great special teams, which we are playing. We've got to be able to play great defense, which we are playing.
"Times have changed. As long as we're winning, it doesn't bother me at all. I'm kind of liking this new way. It works pretty good on the road, it looks like."
The defense is stuck near the bottom of the league, too, ranking 28th in total yardage allowed. But proving again why that can often be a misleading statistic, Minnesota has scored defensive touchdowns in consecutive games and yielded an average of 17.3 points over the last three.
"We've got a lot of good guys on defense," cornerback Brian Williams said. "I thought it would've come around sooner ... but we're starting to pick it up."