The Vikings came out of their bye a week ago knowing that they had the prospect of controlling their own playoff destiny. They missed out on a golden opportunity last week that would have left them in first place in the NFC if they had won. Instead, they sit at 6-5, are currently out of the playoff picture and have a tough game heading into Green Bay Sunday.
Linebacker Erin Henderson believes that Vikings need to get a win Sunday or their 2012 playoff aspirations may go up in smoke.
"It's kind of now or never – put up or shut up for us," Henderson said. "We have an opportunity right now, but we keep letting it slip out of our hands more and more. We let these games go past. So our job is go out, get a ‘W' on Sunday and go from there."
Some of the lingering problems the Vikings have had defensively came back to haunt them again last Sunday in Chicago, primary among them the inability to get off the field on third down. The Vikings have one of the worst third-down defensive rankings in the league and they didn't help their case Sunday, allowing Chicago to convert on more than 50 percent of their third downs and more than 75 percent during a crucial stretch of the second and third quarters when the game got away from them.
That's the bad news. The good news, according to Henderson, is that it isn't a talent gap that is keeping the Vikings from enjoying more success. It's the execution of the defense and mistakes that can be fixed. Asked what the most frustrating part of the Vikings' defensive struggles is, Henderson said it's the déjà vu feeling that they've been in this position before.
"The oh-so-familiar feeling of close, but no cigar," Henderson said. "We would go back and watch some of the plays that happened on defense, we see where we're a step or two away from making a play. It puts them in a position to make a play going the other way – some big swings, some big turns. We struggled to get off the field on third down. (Those are) all things that we can control, that we can work on and that we can fix."
The Vikings will head to Green Bay with a certain sense of desperation, but same with the Packers. Coming off a humbling defeat at the hands of the New York Giants, the Packers will be looking to bounce back, especially quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was benched late in the blowout loss last Sunday night and will come into Sunday's game with a chip on his shoulder – nothing new for the Packers QB.
"I think he always has a chip on his shoulder," Henderson said. "I feel like he's kind of had a chip on his shoulder since he entered the league. I think he felt slighted from Day One and he continues to play with that every time he steps on the field. I'm sure this Sunday will be no different."
Thanks to so many of the other playoff-contending teams losing last week, the Vikings are in a position to still control whether they make the playoffs or are on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around a month from now.
"We can still control was we do," Henderson said. "It's just a matter of getting it done and taking care of our own business."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.