The Minnesota Vikings host the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football" tonight. New England hasn't played the NFC North in the regular season since 2002. With the Vikings playing under first-year coach Brad Childress, this is an entirely different Minnesota team than the one that last visited Gillette Stadium. The Vikings are 4-2 and coming off a 31-13 win against the defending NFC champion Seahawks.
"It's a big game against a good team," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "They're coming off a win that a lot of teams in the NFL haven't been able to do -- go into Seattle and win. They're riding high right now. They've got a lot of momentum going their way. They've got great players."
One of the great players on the Vikings is running back Chester Taylor, whose 590 rushing yards currently rank second in the NFL. He spent his first four NFL seasons backing up Jamal Lewis in Baltimore before signing with the Vikings as a free agent this offseason. Entering this year, Taylor had only started eight games, but he's now the driving force behind the Minnesota ground game.
"They've got a running back that hasn't committed a turnover yet," Bruschi said. "I don't think he's fumbled. Obviously, when you've got a running back that's running as well as he does, that doesn't cough the ball up, that's going to be good news for you offensively."
One of the reasons that Taylor is having so much success is the fact that he has the luxury of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The left side boasts two Pro Bowlers: tackle Bryant McKinnie and guard Steve Hutchinson. Each is arguably the best player at his position in the NFL, and New England coach Bill Belichick actually called this unit the best offensive line the Patriots have faced all year.
"Taylor's up there in terms of the top runners in the NFL, and I'm sure he would give credit to the offensive line first and foremost also," Bruschi said. "I think they do deserve credit because they've got guys like Hutchinson, McKinnie and (Matt) Birk -- players that have been around a while and you watch them on film and they really are great players. They really look to stay on blocks. They do a good job at the second level, on linebackers and defensive backs. I think that's a tribute to their athletic ability. They're able to stay with more athletic guys down the field."
Taylor and the Vikings running game going up against the stout Patriots rush defense will be the main battle in this game. Winning the battle in the trenches likely will go a long way toward winning the game. Minnesota could have an advantage if Patriots All-Pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour is unable to go with an injured elbow. Without Seymour -- who would go up against McKinnie and Hutchinson -- the Patriots could have a tough time stopping Taylor. Replacements Jarvis Green and Mike Wright are good players, but neither is the caliber of Seymour. The Patriots need their best defensive player on the field this week or it could be a big night for Taylor and the Vikings offense.