If the Vikings were trying to sell that they didn't consider Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys – a battle of two 1-3 teams –a must-win game, not too many fans were buying it.
In fact, players even knew the importance of the game as they tried to battle their way back into contention for the NFC North Division. With Chicago and Green Bay both losing early afternoon games, the Vikings knew only a few minutes into their game against the Cowboys that they had a chance to make up some ground in the division.
"Trust me, we had our eyes on those games too. We check the scores when they flash up in the stadium," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "It was out of our control. There was no way that I thought we could have fought for this division if we would have fallen to 1-4."
Minnesota did just enough to win, getting two interceptions from E.J. Henderson that led to 10 points – the first touchdown and their game-winning field goal – and getting a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Percy Harvin. It gave the Vikings their second win of the season and hope that they still have a realistic chance at the playoffs.
"We've got another week. That bought us another week," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "It's week-to-week in this business. It's close to migrant work. You go where it is every week. So we bought one more week. There is parity."
There's not much doubt about that last statement. All it takes is a look at the standings.
Through six NFL weeks, 13 teams have at least a share of the lead in their respective divisions. Ten of those 13 clubs didn't win their division a year ago, and all eight divisions have at least one new team either in first place or tied for the top spot. If that holds, it will be the most new division winners in a single season.
The Vikings are trying to defend their 2009 NFC North title, but right now their 2-3 record is only third-best. The Chicago Bears lead the division at 4-2 and the Green Bay Packers are 3-3.
"I think the NFC North is always wide open. Every team is good and it is always a battle until the end," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "We got a chance. Every other team lost today and we're going to fight until we get to the top."
Fortunately for the Vikings, they have all four of their games left against the top two teams in the division. That starts Sunday night at Lambeau Field, as the Vikings attempt to pull ahead of the Packers and get a game in hand against them.
The Packers lost to Miami 23-20 in overtime Sunday, but Green Bay was missing several starters due to injury, and the Vikings lost to Miami earlier this year.
"They are a good team. I know they lost (Sunday) against a good Miami team at home," cornerback Antoine Winfield said of the Packers. "… It is going to be loud, but if we fight our way and win we will be tied. It is a really big game for us."
Of course, Sunday will be Brett Favre's second game at Lambeau Field since joining the Vikings last year. He knows the Packers well after 16 years as a starter there.
"We all know how explosive Green Bay can be, have, has been. The injury thing can almost be a trap – ‘They don't have this guy; they don't have that guy, and this guy is hurting,'" Favre said. "It would be the matchup that I expect it will be. It will be tough."
The Packers were without eight starters Sunday because of injury, some of which are expected to make it back for the Vikings game, including NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews.
"It's truly a war of attrition. Typically at the end of the year you see some of the healthier teams that are still playing," Childress said of the marathon to the playoffs.
Right now, however, the Vikings are in the NFL minority with a losing record. There are 21 teams with a .500 or better record. That's tied with 2008 for the most such teams through the first six weeks of a season in NFL history.
It was in 2008 that the Vikings also started the season 1-3 and made the playoffs. That's what they are hoping to do again this year with a team that appears to have more talent than the 2008 version, but they will have to play better than they have been.
"We got lucky. It's pretty much what it is, you know?" Anthony Herrera said about the win against the Cowboys. "Everybody lost and we won, so luck has a little something to do with that. You have to have luck. We handled our business and other teams did too."
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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