Behind enemy lines: Minnesota

Coach Brad Childress caused many to snicker and he became the subject of plenty of ridicule last year when he claimed the system the Vikings were running was a "kick ass offense" when executed properly. Nobody is laughing at Childress these days. Not after the Vikings won their third consecutive game Sunday with a 42-10 drubbing that saw Minnesota score touchdowns on its first six possessions.

The victory boosted the Vikings to 6-6 on the season and put them in an excellent position to make a postseason run. Not only is Minnesota in the thick of the postseason race, but its four remaining games are against teams with losing records, beginning with Sunday's visit to San Francisco to meet the 3-9 49ers at Monster Park.

The list also includes Chicago (5-7), Washington (5-7) and Denver (5-7). The Vikings are a heavy road favorite against the 49ers win what should be a very winnable game.

So what has happened to the Vikings? One key seems to be that for whatever reason, the light has gone on for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

Jackson hasn't been Joe Montana-like of late but he has been efficient and steered clear of the mistakes he made earlier in the year. His ability to manage the game is all the Vikings need because their running game is so good that opponents have no choice but to focus on it.

With rookie sensation Adrian Peterson back after a two-game absence because of a knee injury and veteran Chester Taylor also continuing to be extremely productive, Minnesota has the best 1-2 combination in the NFL. The Vikings average of 176.8 yards per game on the ground easily outdistances Jacksonville, which is second in the league with an average of 141.0 yards.

Part of the key for the Vikings offense is players seem to be growing more comfortable on a game-by-game basis with executing their assignments.

"That's what happens when you have a new offense, new coaches and stuff like that," said tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who joined the Vikings as a free agent during the offseason. "It takes a while for everybody to click and be on one page. When you start to understand the concept behind plays and stuff like that then you can use your skills and your talents to make plays after that."

Childress also has seen this happen for a team that started the season with a 2-5 record and was 3-6 after a 34-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 11.

"Sometimes things are just learning from rote," said Childress, the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles before taking the Vikings job. "I've got this gap or I take this step or I block this guy. But when you are really focused and you really are in tune with what's going on, you know what is happening on your right and you know what is happening on your left.

"It's not just a 'What am I doing?' How does it relate to what the other guys are doing? As a quarterback we talk about being a master of the piano, knowing where all of those keys are. ... The more you're into it, the more everybody has a better feel for what is happening all around."

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With a three-game winning streak and a real opportunity to make the playoffs, the Vikings might have plenty of people jumping on their bandwagon these days. But as far as Childress is concerned that doesn't matter.

"We're under the radar as far as I am concerned at 6-6 and playing San Francisco," Childress said. "I'm not getting into the whole thing. You count them up at the end."

The latest game the Vikings will need to stay on a roll is a victory against the 49ers at. A year ago the Vikings lost 9-3 to the 49ers in San Francisco, but that came in the midst of a four-game losing streak. It also started a three-game winning streak for the 49ers that vaulted them temporarily into playoff contention.

This time the Vikings have won four of their past five and appear to have a real shot at winning out with home games against Chicago and Washington followed by the regular-season finale at Denver.

Coming off their big victory of Detroit, the Vikings have scored a combined 83 points in the past two games.

Childress has been careful to preach a one game at a time approach to his players in an effort to keep them focused. So far it seems to be working.

Asked about how he goes about this, Childress said: "I usually vary (the message) every week. There is a little different twist to it every Wednesday when we start up, so just that you want to be playing good. You don't want to be a descending team this time of the year. You want to be finding a way to do one more thing and being a little bit better."

At this point whatever Childress is saying has certainly worked.

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Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and San Francisco assistant head coach/defense Mike Singletary were teammates with the Chicago Bears, including on their Super Bowl XX team.

San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky played linebacker for the Vikings from 1991-93. Manusky was the position coach for Vikings linebacker Ben Leber when both were with the San Diego Chargers.

San Francisco backup quarterback Shaun Hill spent four seasons with the Vikings (2002-2005) after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent.

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The Vikings have played the 49ers five times in divisional playoff games, with four of those being in San Francisco. The 49ers are 4-1, having lost in 1987.

The Vikings shocked the 49ers in a 1987 Divisional Playoff game, winning 36-24 at Candlestick Park. Receiver Anthony Carter had 10 receptions for an NFL playoff-record 227 yards. San Francisco had the NFL's best regular-season record that year at 13-2.

The Vikings likely would rather forget their loss to the 49ers last season. Minnesota got a field goal on its opening drive and did not put any more points on the board. Running back Chester Taylor had 96 yards rushing on 26 carries and also caught eight passes for 45 yards.

The Viking and 49ers met twice a season for the first six years the Vikings were in the NFL. During that time (1961-66), Minnesota went 6-5-1 against San Francisco.

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Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards has been suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

It's a significant loss considering Edwards has started 11 of 12 games this season at right end and is tied for second on the Vikings with four sacks.

Making matters worse is that Erasmus James injured his knee on Sunday against Detroit and was not able to participate in practice earlier this week.

If James can't go Sunday, the Vikings likely will turn to rookie Brian Robison. Robison leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Depth would be a definite concern, however, with Jayme Mitchell serving as the primary backup to Robison.

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The Vikings were accused by some of trying to rush Adrian Peterson's recovery after the rookie running back suffered a slightly torn lateral collateral ligament on Nov. 11 at Green Bay. But a day after Peterson rushed for 116 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns against Detroit, he reported no problems with his knee.

"He said he feels as good as he has felt all year long," coach Brad Childress said the day after the game. "That is what Sug (trainer Eric Sugarman) said to me. He came in and was treated and was off to the races on an off day."

Peterson has been "off to the races" in nearly every game he has played this season. Sunday marked the sixth time in 10 games this season that he has rushed for more than 100 yards.

He continues to lead the NFL with 1,197 yards rushing on 184 carries, and he has scored 10 touchdowns.

Peterson is again expected to play a big role against the 49ers, likely once again sharing carries with Chester Taylor.

Taylor had 14 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. He has rushed for 615 yards on 128 carries with six touchdowns.

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After the Vikings beat Detroit, LB Chad Greenway was asked about the possibly positive impact of a 34-0 loss to Green Bay on Nov. 11. That was the Vikings' last defeat.

"I think everybody in this locker room kind of was on the same page for the first eight games that we knew we were a good football team," he said. "We just had to figure out a way to get it done. Maybe that Green Bay game was a wake-up call for us. But you know we lose the (first) Detroit game by three on a field goal. We lose the Chiefs game by three. We knew we were close; we just couldn't get it done. We've just got to keep feeling the gas pedal. We've got a long ways to go."

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WR Aundrae Allison on his franchise-record 103-yard kick return for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Vikings' victory over Detroit:

"It played out real well. I saw them come out in an unorthodox style of kickoff coverage, so I knew they had a lot of people lined up over to the other side and called a bounce-right. So I felt like it was a good time to bring it out. There were a lot of great blocks throughout the whole thing. It was the fake up the middle and a bounce to the right. When I came out to the right, there were two gaps I could have chose. I could have went to the outside, but I just cut up on the first one I saw, and I knew I just had to make the kicker miss."


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