As a general rule, NFL players bristle at the term "must-win game." They will come back with every game being viewed as a must-win game. But, when you're 3-6, three games behind two teams in your division and just as many in the wild card chase, reality has begun to set in.
As the Vikings play the Packers Sunday at the Metrodome, the must-win label has to apply. With a loss, the Vikings would fall four games behind Green Bay with a series sweep against Minnesota – effectively making it a five-game deficit. It would also put the Vikings in a similar situation with the Bears, who beat Green Bay and, with a win over the Vikings in hand, would carry tie-breaker advantages if the teams were to finish tied.
It would seem that the reality of their dilemma has forced the Vikings to not only put the must-win label into play, but essentially do it every game.
"We're in a must-win situation every week from here on out," linebacker Ben Leber said. "We want to be contending for the playoffs and get to that spot. But all the playoffs and postseason stuff has to be the furthest thing from people's minds. Our focus has to be this week. If we get a win this week, take it to the next week and sort everything out at the end"
The Vikings are on the verge of falling off the playoff map with another loss, but kicker Ryan Longwell said they are one of the few teams that can pull out of their tailspin. In 2008 and 2009, the Vikings went on long winning streaks and, if any team is capable of salvaging a season, it's this team of Vikings.
"I think we've got a good group of guys here," Longwell said. "This is a group of guys that you want in this situation, because they are used to it, they are resilient and they're going to come out swinging. I never worry about the effort. This is a good group of guys."
Given their plight, the Vikings likely need to run the table in order to secure a playoff spot. The schedule favors the Vikings – four of the next five games will be played at the Metrodome, but wide receiver Greg Lewis said the daunting task ahead of them can only be completed one game at a time, so looking too far ahead doesn't make sense.
"I can't speak for the whole team, but I'm just looking at the Packers," Lewis said. "We need to get a win this weekend. That's all we can control. We can't be looking three weeks from now or seven weeks from now. I'm focused on the Packers and I think that's what everyone should be focused on."
The odds are stacked against them making a full comeback into the playoffs, but the Vikings have the talent to make the kind of run necessary to make the improbable dream come true.
"It's a frustrated group of guys, that's for sure," Longwell said. "We're not where we want to be, but this is the group of guys you want if you have to fight your way out of this hole."
That process will begin (and potentially end) Sunday with the Packers. The Vikings need to string wins together, but are mindful that a winning streak has to start with a single game and, like it or not, it will have to start against the Packers – a team looking to put the nail in the divisional title coffin just as the Vikings did to them on their home turf a year ago. Without the first win, a streak can't happen.
"You can't get two (straight wins) until you get one," safety Husain Abdullah said. "It's about getting back to the basics. We didn't look ahead last year and it worked out well. We have to take that same attitude toward this season. We can't be looking at what other teams are doing or looking too far ahead. We can only control the team in front of us and this week, that's Green Bay."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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