Up next: SF begins easy stretch for Vikings?

The Vikings begin a four-game stretch this Sunday at San Francisco that should put them in an ideal position to be in the running for a playoff position come Dec. 1. Beginning with their matchup against the 49ers and ending with a Nov. 26 meeting with Arizona at the Metrodome, the Vikings will play teams that entered last Sunday with a combined record of 6-20.

In between San Francisco and Arizona, the Vikings will play host to Green Bay and then travel to Miami. It will be important for the Vikings to make headway during that time because they will face NFC North-leading Chicago coming out of the stretch on Dec. 3 at Soldier Field.

The toughest game for the Vikings likely will be the Nov. 12 meeting with divisional foe Green Bay. The Vikings swept the Packers last season but because of the rivalry between the teams the games usually carry extra intensity no matter how poor one of the teams might be.

The Vikings also can't count on a sweep versus Green Bay this season because the second meeting between the teams on Dec. 21 could prove to be the last home start for Brett Favre at Lambeau Field. That game is slated for prime time on the NFL Network and emotions figure to be running high.

The Dolphins game originally appeared to be a tough matchup for a multitude of reasons, including the fact former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper would be facing his old team. But Culpepper, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year with the Vikings, continues to battle problems with the knee and might not even play.

Minnesota will reach the halfway point of the season this Sunday in better shape than almost anyone expected when the team opened its first training camp under Brad Childress.

The Vikings aren't flashy but they have proven to be a resilient group that feeds off the emotion of a defense that has been one of the NFL's biggest surprises under 34-year-old defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.

Through Week 7 and entering a weekend of games that saw the Vikings play host to New England on Monday night, Minnesota had the top run defense in the league and was rated seventh overall.

After opening the season with a Monday night victory in Washington, the Vikings rallied to beat Carolina. That was followed by back-to-back losses to Chicago and at Buffalo but the Vikings turned the tide again to beat Detroit and then Seattle at Qwest Field.

Much of this was down while the offense floundered, but that unit seemed to come around during the surprising 31-13 victory over the Seahawks.

"I think the main thing is guys are starting to pay attention to the small details, starting to do the little things that need to be done right and just going out there and never giving up," tight end Jermaine Wiggins said. "Every game we've played it has kind of went down to the wire but it just shows what type of team we can be when we play every game like (we did against Seattle)."

--- WR Marcus Robinson was expected to miss Monday's game against New England because of a lower-back injury suffered in the victory over Seattle. It wasn't known how long Robinson will be sidelined and he refused to divulge the exact nature of the injury. Robinson entered Monday's game leading the Vikings with three touchdown receptions.
--- DE Kevin Williams had 30 sacks entering Monday's game since 2003, the most by a defensive tackle in the NFL during that time.
--- S Tank Williams, who suffered a fractured left kneecap in training camp and is on injured reserve, hopes to start doing some running in the upcoming weeks. Williams signed a one-year deal during the offseason but is hoping to get a chance to return to the Vikings. Dwight Smith, signed just before training camp, has started at safety along with Darren Sharper.
--- C Matt Birk was named the Vikings' recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. Birk was selected for the honor by his teammates for exemplifying sportsmanship and courage. He has started every game this season but a total of five surgeries to Birk's midsection cost him part of the 2004 season and the entire 2005 campaign.
--- The touchdown pass thrown by Mewelde Moore in the victory over Seattle was the seventh thrown by a running back in team history. The last scoring pass by a Vikings running back was tossed by Keith Henderson in 1992 against the Los Angeles Rams.

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