Black & Blue Review: Week 15

The Vikings started 6-0 a year ago and failed to make the playoffs. It appears history is repeating itself, after a 5-1 start Minnesota has lost 5 of 7.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are trying to understand why their defense starts slowly and their offense finishes slowly.

First, the defense. The Vikings have given up just 26 points in the second half of the past five games. But they've also allowed 92 in the first half.

"Once again we're working our butts off to figure out why we're having these anxiety coverage issues early in the game defensively," coach Mike Tice said. "Why are we jumping things as they're ghosts and not going to the guys that we should be going to?

"And why when we get to the second half are we able to shut down any offense in the league. We've given up 26 points in the second half over the past five weeks against some pretty good quarterbacks, too - Brett Favre, Byron Leftwich, and the (Matt) Hasselbeck kid from Seattle is no bum."

Offensively, the Vikings have scored only three points in the second half of the past two games, both losses to Seattle and Chicago. Making it even worse is the fact the lone field goal followed a 1-yard "drive" set up when FS Brian Russell returned an interception to the Seattle 14.

"Offensively, all of a sudden a team that was able to score with or without Randy Moss, on the road, at home, on the rooftop, in the parking lot, has scored three points in the second half of the past two games," Tice said. "Some of that, I think, is we've lost a little patience. We've gotten into some third-and-long situations that we hadn't been getting into."

The Vikings still have time to turn everything around. They're 7-6 and can win the NFC North by winning their last three games. The first step is at Detroit. Tice is 5-0 against the Lions.

Detroit Lions
There hasn't been a lot of playoff talk around the Lions' Allen Park practice facility this week.

After slipping to 5-8 with the loss Sunday at Green Bay, the Lions are focusing on winning a game. Any game.

But that doesn't mean the playoffs have been forgotten entirely.

"As crazy as it seems, 8-8 still puts us in the playoffs," quarterback Joey Harrington said. "And you know me. It still has the mathematical possibility of putting us in the playoffs and I'm a guy who's not going to turn it in before someone puts the numbers in front of me and says, 'You can't make it.'

"So these last three games are very important for us as a team to go out and try and keep ourselves in a position to at least have hope."

The Lions are one of six teams stuck in the 5-8 logjam behind division leaders Philadelphia, Atlanta, Green Bay and Seattle, as well as Minnesota (7-6) and two teams with 6-7 records - Carolina and St. Louis.

The Lions would have to win all three remaining games - at home against Minnesota and Chicago, and on the road against Tennessee - to have a chance to slip into the final wild card berth. And their chances still would be remote.

The game Sunday is a rematch of the Vikings game at Minnesota on Nov. 21, when the Lions led 19-7 midway in the third quarter and ended up losing the game, 22-19, as their offense bogged down and Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper picked them apart.

Randy Moss, who missed the first game with a hamstring injury, is back, creating more problems for the Lions defensive secondary.

Green Bay Packers
The career of safety LeRoy Butler ended Nov. 18, 2001. He tackled Atlanta running back Maurice Smith and damaged his shoulder beyond repair, leading to his retirement.

More than three years later, the Packers are no closer to finding a suitable replacement.

Since his retirement, the Packers have given at least one start at the position to Bhawoh Jue, Billy Jenkins, Antuan Edwards, Matt Bowen, Marques Anderson and the current regular, Mark Roman. None has been able to give the Packers the combination of athletic talent, intelligence, personality and leadership that Butler offered.

It's not that the Packers should be expected to replace a potential Hall of Famer with another, but three years after his departure they still haven't settled on a successor.

"I would hate to say it's on the same planet as replacing a quarterback who's going to the Hall of Fame. We're not in the same world," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said.

"But it's obviously something where we've not yet found someone that has been able to take command and take charge and become the leader and operate back there. It doesn't mean that won't happen."

Said retired GM Ron Wolf: "I guess I didn't address that and probably should have. It shouldn't be that difficult. You've just got to step up and do it, either in free agency or the draft. New England did it with Rodney Harrison. Or you draft them. There's two ways available to them."

Bear Report Top Stories