When the Vikings got their first look at the 2010 schedule, the first thing many of the players were looking for was when the bye week would be coming. Almost to a man, they didn't like the fact that their bye week was coming in Week 4. However, they couldn't help but notice the Murders' Row of a schedule that is following the bye.
As the Vikings return to action Monday night, it's the first of a four-game Octoberfest that could make or break the Vikings' 2010 season, and may be a huge contributor why the Vikings made a push to trade for wide receiver Vincent Jackson and, when that fell through, traded for Randy Moss. After heading to play the Jets on Monday night, the Vikings return to the Metrodome to play Dallas before going on the road to play Green Bay and New England. Any of the four could be a hurdle in the Vikings' chase to get back into the thick of playoff picture, but all four in succession is going to be a difficult gauntlet to run.
When the players returned from around the country after their bye week, head coach Brad Childress told them that they have their 2010 season still in their hands despite a 1-2 start and told them the players will find out this month if their preparation for a Super Bowl run will remain intact.
"Coach (Childress) pretty much said it all," wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "He said the month of October is going to tell where we're going to be at as far as making the playoffs or not making the playoffs. We have to take one game at a time, but we know we have to get things going here."
The slate of heavy hitters coming is something that goes against the Vikings' belief of taking one game at a time and not worrying about who comes after this week's opponent. While the temptation may be to look at the schedule in its totality, veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield said he's trying to keep with the mantra of focusing on the present and not looking too far ahead.
"I try to still look at it just as one game at a time," Winfield said. "We know we have four tough opponents coming back to back out of the bye and most of them are on the road, so it isn't going to be easy. But we can only play one game this week, so that's all I'm looking at right now."
Given the early deficit the Vikings have put themselves in, they are taking the approach that this is their Super Bowl run in October instead of January. If the Vikings are to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Minnesota, they will have to run off three or four wins against the best the NFL has to offer – very similar to what they're facing this month. Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said it has all the makings of playoff football before midseason.
"I definitely look at that way," Loadholt said. "When you look at those four teams, we get excited about showing what we can do against the best teams in the league. We have high goals for ourselves and that means we have to compete with the best teams in the league and beat them. They're all going to be tough and a couple of them are going to be in prime time, so there's a lot of reasons to think there will be a playoff atmosphere in all of them."
Although a loss or two in the four games coming up won't be a death sentence for the Vikings season, they realize they can't give away too many more games, which makes the pressure cooker associated with playoff football come home to roost in October.
"Given the situation we're in, it is kind of like the playoffs," cornerback Lito Sheppard said. "We can't afford to give away any more games. While it isn't the one-and-done format you have in the playoffs, we need to get things back on track and prove what kind of team we're going to be. You don't like seeing all of those quality teams one after the other, but it's the situation we're in and we're going to have come up big every week to get through it."
Like it or not, October is going to be a month to remember for the Vikings. For better or worse, if the Vikings are going to build the momentum needed to get back into the playoff hunt, it is going to require them to play at a high level every game and bring it on both sides of the ball and on special teams. It's not going to be easy – far from it – but the Vikings have the belief that they can erase their early disappointments and rise to the occasion in October, with carryover expected in the second half of the season.
"I think we have to look at it that way," Greenway said. "The way we started the season, we dug ourselves a hole that we're still trying to get out of. Having the bye week early could end up being a positive for us. Hopefully, we can use that to refocus and get rolling and get a little confidence. That has to be the goal. If we can get a few games going and get on a roll, we'll be fine."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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