The Vikings have won five in a row since a 2-5 start, putting themselves in contention for a playoff spot. But that doesn't mean coach Mike Tice is satisfied with the way his team has been playing.
At his Monday press conference, a day after the Vikings' 21-16 victory at Detroit, Tice made it clear he does not consider his team to be approaching the elite level.
"No. No. No. No," Tice said for effect. "Not when you have minus-8 (tackles for losses as the Vikings offense did against the Lions). Eight TFLs in the game, I don't know how you can rank yourself as one of the better teams in the league."
While Tice has been pleased with the progress his offense has made as a whole, he expressed frustration following Sunday's victory with the play of the line. Lions defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson caused problems for starting guards Anthony Herrera and Adam Goldberg, both of whom were benched at various points.
Chris Liwienski replaced Herrera for a portion of the first half and Goldberg for a portion of the second.
"I will say the offensive line played extremely hard," Tice said Monday. "It's just that sometimes the guys you line up across from are better than you are. I think that was the case some (Sunday). They had a couple guys that were better than our guys, and that happens sometimes."
Tice said he had not yet considered any type of permanent rotation that might involve Goldberg, Herrera and Liwienski.
Tice wasn't happy with the performance of the special teams. The unit, which has been a strength for much of the season, struggled for a second consecutive week in the return game.
The Lions' Eddie Drummond averaged 23 yards on punt returns and 22.7 yards on kick returns.
"We've come off two mediocre games on special teams," Tice said. "We need to make sure that we stay on track with our special teams, and then losing our punter this week brings one more problem into the mix that we have to solve by Sunday."
Vikings punter Chris Kluwe injured his right knee on Sunday and is expected to miss at least a week. The Vikings will audition some punters Tuesday. Darren Bennett, who was cut by the Vikings after a rough training camp, could be in that group.
"We put that play in on Thursday, so I knew it was coming," Robinson said. "They said they wanted to go at (Detroit cornerback) R.W. McQuarters, and he happened to line up on me. Brad said that regardless, he was going to throw the ball, so I just took off. Then when I got up on him, I didn't think he was thinking that we were going to go deep. So when they opened up, it was kind of like a shuffle I gave him and had enough room that I went by him. Brad threw a perfect ball."
"You know when you play against a team like that, they are going to put the ball in the air," he said. "They are going to try to get explosive plays, and the main thinking that you want to have is to keep them from stretching the field and getting points through big plays."
One game into his tenure as the Lions' interim coach, Dick Jauron was busy Monday fielding questions, most of them on the same two subjects:
No. 1 — Why is he so deeply committed to veteran Jeff Garcia as the Lions' starting quarterback, despite four lackluster appearances by the former Pro Bowler?
No. 2 — Why was wide receiver Charles Rogers inactive for the 21-16 loss to Minnesota, and is there any chance he will get meaningful playing time in any of the remaining four games?
In response to questions from the media during his Monday morning press conference at the Lions headquarters in Allen Park, Mich., Jauron said he is not opposed to making lineup changes.
"I would answer generally and say, yeah, we'll look at everything," Jauron said. "We'll try to look at every situation and think of what we can do to make us a better team next Sunday than we were this last Sunday. If the answer is yes, then we'll make any switch that we can if we think that will help our chances to win."
Having said that, however, Jauron seemed to be staunch in his belief that Garcia gives the Lions a better chance of winning that four-year veteran Joey Harrington. And he does not appear to be eager to provide some of the younger players — including Rogers — with what boils down to an audition for next season.
Jauron said the major factors in choosing Garcia over Harrington were Garcia's experience, his previous success in the NFL and his courage both on and off the field.
"In terms of handling the game, there are so many things in the course of a game — in game plan — a lot of them are not apparent," Jauron said. "The decisions made on the line of scrimmage, depending on what the defense does, when they do it and how they do it. How you control the game clock, the huddle. All of those issues.
"Obviously, (Sunday) he did not play the way he would have wanted to play, he didn't play the way we wanted him to play in all situations."
The fact that Garcia didn't play well but still had the Lions within striking distance until his ill-fated interception throw with 52 seconds remaining apparently was significant to Jauron.
It was a surprise to many that Rogers was not even in uniform Sunday, after comments by president Matt Millen during the firing of former coach Steve Mariucci that he felt the Lions had to do a better job of developing their young players.
Jauron admitted to a lack of familiarity with Rogers, in part because of his focus on the defensive players during his 1 1/2 seasons as the Lions' defensive coordinator. But he added that Rogers has to be prepared to take advantage of the limited opportunities he has in practice and — if he ever gets another chance — in games.
"He's got to fight his way back, and how he gets there, he's got to get through the active lineup," Jauron said. "I wouldn't necessarily stand here and tell you he's doing anything wrong, but we only have four (wide receiver) spots, so the guys in front of him have consistently played, in our opinion."
Many in the sellout crowd of more than 60,000 apparently anticipated a change in the team's approach after the firing of Steve Mariucci and the appointment of Dick Jauron as the team's interim coach for the final five games of the season.
When the team — and quarterback Jeff Garcia, in particular — started slowly, falling behind 21-9 in the third quarter, the fans did not hesitate to show their displeasure.
Garcia was the primary target for the boo-birds, and there were chants of "Joey, Joey," referring to Joey Harrington, the quarterback who had been booed until he was benched by Mariucci late in the first half of the Thanksgiving Day loss to Atlanta.
The fans also targeted Lions president Matt Millen, who was watching from the team's management box on the press box level.
There were chants of "Fire Millen" and several fans brought out homemade signs with the same message. One particularly ambitious fan carried a small "Fire Millen" sign and ran through the stands, trying to stay one step ahead of pursuing stadium security personnel.
Fox television picked up the chase and showed the fan eventually being tackled and escorted from the stadium.
Fullback Cory Schlesinger was asked Monday about the team's response to the rambunctious crowd.
"It was loud, but I don't think it was a positive loud," Schlesinger said, laughing.
"It's been the same old story since I got here," Garcia said.
Although Garcia said he does not blame Mariucci for the situation, it is something Jauron has to deal with.
"I think he's working to address that," Garcia said. "I think he's really trying to force accountability upon everybody within this locker room. I think he's trying to do the best that he can do, given the circumstances of where this team is at right now and where we are in the season.
"It is difficult because once you create bad habits, those habits are hard to break. It's just important that everybody — somewhat, somehow — tries to find new focuses within themselves and try to do the right thing for this team to compete at a high level."
Garcia said that chunk plays were a major part of the West Coast offense when he played for Mariucci in San Francisco.
"When I was playing in this system in San Francisco, we had a guy who could get down the field and make those plays. And it wasn't just one guy, we had a few guys who basically you could count on in that type of situation," Garcia said.
"I think right now we're trying to still find that within this team. Unfortunately, if you don't try, you're never going to know. If we're in a game and we don't take those shots down the field, you're never really seeing if you truly can make those plays down the field because we haven't given ourselves the opportunity."
Although Lions wide receiver Roy Williams is highly regarded, he has not established himself as a premier, big-play NFL receiver, such as the two Garcia had in San Francisco — Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens.
"When it came to being on the field and running by people, whether Jerry Rice just plain and simple knew how to do it on game day, he found a way to do it," Garcia said. "He found a way to get on top of defensive backs and use his leverage to shield them away from the football.
"Terrell Owens just flat out ran by people. You go out and you time them in the 40-yard dash and they may not be the 4.4s or the 4.3s, but when it came to game day, they ran by people, and you knew you could count on that."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
A season like no other in Brett Favre's 14 years as Packers quarterback had a long list of injuries added to it Sunday.
By the 36-year-old's count in the aftermath of a 19-7 loss at Chicago, he sustained a lacerated right hand, a bruised right forearm, a blister on his left foot, sore ribs and back and an aching right shin. For good measure, he took a fall on his head.
"You kind of find out how tough you are after games like that," Favre said.
Early indications are the indefatigable warrior will pick himself back up after a few days of rest this week and start his league-record 238th straight game Sunday night against Detroit.
"I anticipate he'll be able to play at this point," coach Mike Sherman said Monday.
Nevertheless, many of Favre's teammates were aghast over the unrelenting punishment he absorbed from the Bears' top-rated defense.
"It's not the Brett we're used to seeing. That's the sad part," veteran receiver Robert Ferguson said. "He's always been able to fight through the nicks and bruises, but the nicks and bruises are more evident when you're losing.
"I'm a fan of his and a fan of the game, and I hate to see that, especially after a loss. But, he took some big shots, some shots I haven't seen him take since I've been here. I don't ever want to see him come off the field like that again."
Given all the abuse his aging body was exposed to at Soldier Field, one has to wonder whether it was the final straw in persuading Favre to call it a career after he plays the last four games of the season, which will go down as one of the worst in Green Bay's celebrated history.
Sherman reiterated Monday that playing to win is paramount the rest of the way, so he'll stick with Favre and not turn to rookie Aaron Rodgers, unless the Packers (2-10) find themselves in a lopsided game.
Favre was bloodied with the cut on the index finger of his throwing hand after he hit the helmet of a Bears lineman while following through on a 27-yard completion to tight end Donald Lee late in the third quarter. That wasn't the biggest jolt to course through Favre, however.
Earlier in the second half, safety Mike Brown broke off the left edge untouched on a blitz and drilled Favre in the ribs, resulting in a fumble that the Packers recovered.
"I hadn't worn my rib pads in about a year and a half. I thought I was going to get away with not getting smacked anymore. But I got caught good," Favre said.
In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Lee failed to pick up blitzing cornerback Charles Tillman, who cracked Favre from the backside and forced his second lost fumble of the game.
"He took a lot of unnecessary hits," running back Tony Fisher said. "He's a franchise player, and we let him get hit far too many times. We can't let everything fall on his shoulders. We all have to stand up and be accountable."
Perhaps more so than the physical lumps he's taken, what may convince Favre to walk away under his own power is an apparent erosion of skills. In the last six games, he's completed only 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards and five touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
For the season, he has a league-leading 21 interceptions with just 19 touchdowns and a modest passer rating of 75.9.
He prolonged a theme of recent weeks with two costly interceptions Sunday, the latter of which was returned 45 yards for a clinching touchdown by Nathan Vasher late in the game.
Favre's first miscue smacked of his stubborn insistence to try to make something out of nothing. The Bears' blitz convinced him not to throw an intended shovel pass near the goal line, and Favre flung the ball into the end zone, putting enough air under it for Tillman to pick it off and race 95 yards the other way to get Chicago in position for a go-ahead field goal before halftime.
"I was trying to throw it away," Favre said. "As I was throwing, I got hit, and I couldn't put enough on it. A huge play in the game, obviously."
Franks, who sustained a mild concussion and back pain on a hit by Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins on Nov. 27, took the brunt of a collision with Chicago's Lance Briggs in the first series of the 19-7 loss Sunday. Coach Mike Sherman said Monday the initial diagnosis was Franks, who didn't play the remainder of the game, suffered neck and back injuries.
"The way he was torqued was a little bit different (from the Dawkins hit). It almost looked, when you look at it on tape and play it back, worse than (that) hit," Sherman said. "So his availability is very suspect at this present time."
Sherman said Driver probably will be held out of practice Wednesday.
Driver finished the game and led both teams with eight catches for 64 yards.