Vikings try not to let up against lowly LionsMINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The NFC North is under Minnesota’s control as the second half of the season starts, and the Vikings have begun to gaze toward bigger goals. “They had a taste of the playoffs last year,” coach Brad Childress said. “It’s no secret that the people with the best record in your conference are able to play at home as long as they can. So it’s just important that we continue to play well.”
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The NFC North is under Minnesota’s control as the second half of the season starts, and the Vikings have begun to gaze toward bigger goals.
“They had a taste of the playoffs last year,” coach Brad Childress said. “It’s no secret that the people with the best record in your conference are able to play at home as long as they can. So it’s just important that we continue to play well.”
Even against the Detroit Lions.
“Really a nameless, faceless opponent,” Childress said. “We just need to worry about what we need to do to get ready.”
Especially against the Detroit Lions.
“They’re in a lot of games,” defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “They just can’t finish at the end, so we have to stay true to our game plan and put the game away early.”
Last year at the Metrodome, a Detroit team that became the NFL’s first to lose all 16 games led in the closing minutes before a field goal gave Minnesota a 12-10 victory. The Vikings didn’t have Brett Favre at quarterback then, but Gus Frerotte actually passed for 296 yards in that game despite the struggles that were so glaring fans started chanting for Childress to be fired.
The Lions have lost 11 straight games at Minnesota and 18 of their last 20 overall against the Vikings, but last season’s ugly contest was not unusually close. In six of those 11 consecutive road defeats to Minnesota, Detroit has come within seven points or less.
Last year’s loss even took a questionable pass interference penalty at the end to set up the winning kick.
“That one stung,” wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. “That was history right there.”
The Lions (1-7) zapped the zero from their record early, beating the woeful Washington Redskins 19-14 in Week 3 to silence the speculation about another full season of futility. They played Pittsburgh close, losing 28-20, and the Steelers are the only team to beat the Vikings (7-1) so far. They led Seattle 17-0 in the first quarter last week before the Seahawks intercepted rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford five times and surged back for a 32-20 victory.
In Week 2 in Detroit, they were up on Minnesota 10-0 early and didn’t lose the lead until midway through the third quarter on the way to a 27-13 defeat.
“That grabbed my attention,” Childress said.
So even with a betting line that reached a whopping 16½ points in favor of the Vikings this week and a Lions team that familiarly ranks at or near the bottom in so many statistical categories, it wouldn’t be such a shock if Sunday’s game was not the blowout the talent level of the two teams suggests it should be.
That’s why the Vikings, who are chasing the New Orleans Saints (8-0) for the best record in the NFC and the home-field advantage in the conference, are sounding so diplomatic about Detroit. With two more home games against Seattle (3-5) and Chicago (4-4) following the Lions, the Vikings could actually clinch the division on Thanksgiving weekend if the sputtering Bears lose one of their next two games and the struggling Green Bay Packers drop two of their next three.
“We can’t taste it yet,” tight end Visanthe Shiancoe insisted. “We’ll taste it when we get it. We’re not going to try to eat the meal before it’s ready, you know? We’ve got to wait, man. We’ve got to keep on going one game at a time.”
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is one of four players remaining from the 2003 Vikings squad that started 6-0, but wound up losing to all four of the NFL’s 4-12 teams and missed the playoffs on a final-second touchdown pass by the Arizona Cardinals.
With Favre guiding the offense and an experienced, well-balanced and gifted roster, this has a much different feel.
“When we went 6-0, we were winning but people weren’t sure how we were winning,” McKinnie said. “But here’s it’s like, I don’t know, it’s just a different swagger. Everybody expects to win. There’s no, ‘I hope we beat this team.’ It’s like, ‘We’ll beat this team.’ Not arrogant or anything, but just a little more confidence going out there.”
That’s what the Lions have been lacking for so long. The change in leadership has brought a fresh start, but little sign of progress yet on the field.
Detroit has dropped 30 of its last 32 regular-season games.
“I’m certainly not discouraged, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of encouraging either,” new coach Jim Schwartz said. “I think the best word is determined. We know what our issues are. We are going to work hard to get through them.”
Stafford is sure learning on the job, but Schwartz said he wasn’t worried about breaking the first overall draft pick’s spirit.
“He’s got a great personality. We talk quite a bit, and he’s got great perspective,” Schwartz said. “I don’t worry about him at all. I don’t think anybody worried about Peyton Manning losing his confidence, or Troy Aikman. They started off and they struggled a little bit. Matt is a special guy, and he’s going to be a great quarterback for us.”
AP Prediction: VIKINGS, 31-10