When the Vikings got off to a 5-2 start, there was disbelief among fans that this was the same team that went 3-13 a year earlier, gutted the veteran core of the franchise and effectively said that it was starting over from scratch with a young nucleus. Hard-pressed to make predictions for the 2012 season, five or six wins was the upper level of expectations from many of those outside the organization. Anything above and beyond that was considered a happy bonus.
However, when the Vikings strung three early wins together and came out of the gate at 5-2, the naysayers were begrudgingly swallowing hard and were forced to admit that the Vikings were a more complete team than those same skeptics had projected. How, however, with a pair of convincing losses – one at home to Tampa Bay and the other on the road at Seattle – it would seem that all non-believers have jumped off the corner of the purple bandwagon with the same urgency as the first Titanic passengers hitting the lifeboats.
The Vikings have been upset with their recent performance, but their veteran core – headed up by center John Sullivan – remains optimistic that their season isn't in full tailspin mode. They are ignoring the projections of gloom and doom that are permeating the national and local media about their recent downturn.
"It's just about going out and executing this weekend and getting a win," Sullivan said. "That's all we're focused on. All the other stuff? We don't care what the media is saying – no offense guys, we understand that you have to write stories. That's fine. We're just focused on winning games. We haven't been able to do that the last couple of weeks. We're looking to get back to where we were earlier in the season and putting together good performances on game day."
In the revisionist world of the NFL, you can go from a bum to a king back to a bum in the span of two or three weeks. For players, it's a marathon with 16 stops along the way. You don't spend time looking backward and you don't look too far ahead. They wear blinders and keep their eyes focused merely on what is directly in front of them. That isn't to say they are oblivious to what is being said about them. They get it. They just don't agree with what is being said.
"Everybody is acting like the sky is falling," Sullivan said. "We're 5-4 and, if we win this week, we're 6-4 going into the bye and controlling our own destiny. I realize that we've lost two in a row, but, at the same time, we've put those behind us. All the focus now is beating Detroit. We can accomplish everything we want to accomplish from a 6-4 record. We just need to keep playing well."
The most frustrating part of the Vikings' recent downturn has been that, as the old mantra goes, you use the run to set up the passing game and, if you can keep a defense off-balance with a strong run game, the entire offense can become explosive. In the last three weeks, the Vikings ground game has been lights-out, yet the passing game has looked as bad it has since Donovan McNabb was one-hopping 10-yard passes and creating repeated three-and-outs.
Sullivan and the offense have been pleased with the strides they've made in the run game and are confident that Christian Ponder and the passing game will follow suit if they simply stay the course and everybody gets his own job done.
"It just comes to executing and being more balanced on offense," Sullivan said. "We're committed to throwing the ball and we're going to try to do that in every game we play. Theoretically, it should open up the pass game. That hasn't been happening, but our focus this week is trying to get the pass game going, continue to do what we've been doing in the run game and hopefully be more successful on Sunday in terms of coming away with a win."
The concerns being expressed that the Vikings' season may be going in the tank is news to the team itself. A year ago after nine games, the Vikings were in dire straights and their postseason outlook was on life support at 2-7. A year later, they're in the thick of the playoff chase – only a tie-breaker behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot – and have their playoff destiny in their own hands. Sullivan believes that is where the spotlight should be shining, because, as the Giants proved last year, you don't have to be dominant to win a championship, you just have to play sound football and get hot at the right time.
"I don't know where we were a year ago, maybe two wins? We're 5-4 (and in good shape)," Sullivan said. "If we get a win (Sunday), we're 6-4. You can do everything you want from there. The Super Bowl champs a year ago were 7-7 (at one point). We just need to focus on beating Detroit and, if you have to look at the bigger picture, at 5-4, you can accomplish everything you want to accomplish from there."
With the Vikings currently heading in the wrong direction, the primary objective is to stop the leak in the boat and keep it from sinking. Just as the Vikings didn't get too full of themselves when things were going well, they're not going to panic after a pair of losses. In order to get back on track to where they want to be, the critical games won't be in December against the Bears and Packers. It will be Sunday against Detroit. Those other games will come soon enough. If the Vikings can take care of their business Sunday, they will head into their bye on an up note with a chance to recharge their batteries for the stretch run. But, unless they take care of that business, December games with teams like Chicago, Green Bay and Houston won't have the same meaning, which is why the team isn't looking at anything beyond Sunday at this point.
"The only important thing for us is being 6-4 heading into the bye week," Sullivan said. "The only way we do that is by going out and beating Detroit this weekend. Anything else doesn't matter right now."
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.
Despite slump, Vikings keeping singular focus
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