GAMEDAY: Vikings at Lions

Keys to the Game, Fast Facts, and inside looks at both the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions for today's kick-off between the two NFC North rivals. Much more inside.

Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at Detroit Lions (5-8)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/19/04
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas, Jay Glazer; DirecTV, 712
SERIES: This is the 87th meeting. The Vikings lead 55-29-2, including 25-17-1 at Detroit. CB Moe Williams' 1-yard touchdown run with 5:27 left and Antoine Winfield's interception on Detroit's final drive of the game sealed a 22-19 Vikings victory at the Metrodome on Nov. 21.
2004 RANKINGS: Vikings: offense 3rd (14th rush, 2nd pass); defense 27th (23rd rush, 25th pass). Lions: offense 30th (21st rush, 28th pass); defense 19th (21st rush, 19th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions have jumped 11 spots in the rushing standings since the Vikings' 22-19 comeback victory over Detroit last month. The Lions held a 19-7 lead and rushed for 128 yards, and they will again turn to rookie RB Kevin Jones. The Vikings allow 4.9 yards per carry and the Lions' best shot is to move the ball on the ground because QB Joey Harrington is mired in a prolonged slump. Minnesota will likely be without CB Antoine Winfield again, so Harrington will take a few shots to help take attention away from Jones. The Vikings' offense is working better with WR Randy Moss near full strength and stretching the field. Minnesota will pound away with RB Onterrio Smith early in an attempt to set up QB Daunte Culpepper to work against a Lions defense susceptible to big pass plays.

FAST FACTS: Vikings: Lead the series 55-29-2 and have won nine of the past 10 meetings. ... Culpepper needs three rushing yards to move past Herschel Walker (2,264) for 12th place in franchise history. Lions: Jones needs to average 47 rushing yards the final three games to reach 1,000. ... With 150 rushing yards, Jones would become the first rookie in NFL history with three consecutive 150-yard games.

PREDICTION: Vikings 31-20

-- CB Antoine Winfield, who missed last week's 27-23 loss to Seattle, participated in the Vikings' walk-through Thursday morning and was upgraded to questionable. But don't expect him to play until the Dec. 24 game against Green Bay.
-- C Matt Birk, who will miss his fourth consecutive game because of surgery to repair a hernia, will return to practice next week. He is expected to play Dec. 24 against Green Bay.
-- RT Adam Goldberg will start his third consecutive game Sunday in Detroit. Unless he gets injured, Goldberg likely will keep the job while rookie Nat Dorsey works as a backup. Dorsey started seven games there before a shoulder injury sidelined him out for one game.
-- TE Sean Berton is becoming a solid blocker. He isn't as good as TE Jim Kleinsasser, who has been on injured reserve since the first game of the season, but he had the key block on a linebacker that enabled Onterrio Smith to score on a 5-yard run against Seattle last week.
-- QB Daunte Culpepper and WR Randy Moss last week became the 13th tandem in NFL history to combine for 50 touchdown passes. They hold the team record. Second place belongs to Warren Moon and Cris Carter, who combined for 26 touchdown passes.
-- WR Ryan Hoag, who is on the practice squad, suffered a sprained right shoulder when he was thrown to the ground by CB Rhett Nelson during a walk-through this week. It was Nelson's first practice since being promoted from the practice squad.

--QB Joey Harrington will get another chance to snap out of his late-season slump when he gets the starting assignment in the Lions game against Minnesota at Ford Field. Harrington is coming off a windblown 5-for-22 performance in the Lions' loss Sunday at Green Bay. Despite the improvement in their running game, the Lions offense hasn't scored a second-half touchdown in the last five games.
--RB Kevin Jones, who notched his first 100-yard game against the Vikings in a Nov. 21 game at the Metrodome, will get another crack at Minnesota in the rematch Sunday at Ford Field. Jones rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries in the Lions' 22-19 loss and has been on a hot streak since then with 99 yards against Indianapolis, 196 against Arizona and 156 against Green Bay.
--WR Roy Williams, who had five touchdowns in the Lions' first five games, will try to break a six-game scoring drought Sunday in the Lions game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Williams suffered a sprained ankle in the fourth game of the season and still does not seem fully recovered. In the 16-13 loss Sunday at Green Bay, he had his season low production - one catch for 13 yards.
--OG Matt Joyce, a backup at all of the offensive line positions except center, has practiced at LG all week and is likely to get the start there Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Journeyman David Loverne started the first 13 games at LG and Joyce came in in relief several times.
--CB Fernando Bryant has gotten little practice time this week because of a sprained left ankle suffered in the Lions' Dec. 5 game against Arizona. Bryant, who has 13 passes defensed but has no interceptions, sat out the Green Bay game and is officially listed as questionable for the Minnesota game on Sunday.

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.

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.

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