The Minnesota Vikings will go on the road to face a reeling NFC North team Sunday with a chance to tie them for first place in the division. You've heard this one before, right?
That was exactly the case when the Vikings traveled to face the Chicago Bears Sunday. The Bears were coming off a 32-7 beatdown at San Francisco and were on a two-game losing streak. They appeared to be in disarray at quarterback and their offensive line.
And then the Bears turned the table on the Vikings, allowing only one sack, getting Jay Cutler back at quarterback after a concussion and trashing Minnesota 28-10.
Next up for the Vikings? They travel to Green Bay to take on a Packers team that was dismantled 38-10 by the New York Giants and looking as vulnerable as the Bears were a week earlier.
But the Vikings seem to understand their quality of play in nearly every aspect wasn't good enough to win on the road. They lost the turnover battle, lost the third-down battle, lost the red zone battle, lost the game and ultimately lost their opportunity to move into first place in the division.
"We had some chances," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Our energy level, our focus was where it needed to be, but you can't turn the ball over and you need to capitalize on red zone opportunities with touchdowns on the road. We've seen this happen earlier in the season and it happened (Sunday). It's hurt us. It's hurt us on the road. We've got to go out on the road again this week, so we've got to do something different, better."
The Vikings will have to do a lot better if they want to stay in the playoff hunt over a four-game stretch that includes Green Bay, the Bears again and the Houston Texans.
Minnesota remains a game behind Green Bay and if they can pull off the upset at Lambeau Field, they would have at least a temporary tie-breaker advantage over the Packers and be tied at 7-5. The Vikings would also have to finish with a better record than Tampa Bay and Seattle, who are both at 6-5, because those teams already beat the Vikings. But the focus this week has to be on the Packers.
"We consider this upcoming week, we're going to stay out in front, we're going to execute from the start of the game and we're not going to get ourselves in a position where the team can pin their ears back and just pass-rush us," said center John Sullivan, who placed part of the Vikings' problems handling the Bears pass rush to having to play catch-up.
The Bears are now tied for fifth in the NFL with 30 sacks. The Packers are even better with 34, third in the league.
While the Vikings have their own issues to attend to, the Packers and Bears play a completely different style of defense.
"They are two different teams. Although they are both in our division, their style of play is completely different than the other. It's really more about our team than the Green Bay Packers," Frazier said. "We've got to get some things fixed with our team and with what we've got to get done in order to play better. This is a very good opponent, a different opponent, but there's some things that we have to look at to get fixed internally so that we can go out and play better in this next ballgame."
The Vikings have been all over the board this year. They have lost to teams like Indianapolis and Washington. They have beaten the 49ers and Lions.
The next step in rebuilding the franchise will be evening out the uneven performances. If they want to make the playoffs, that will have to happen over the final five-game stretch.
"You just got to come back in and regroup. We didn't play the way we wanted to," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "We got beat, so we've got to focus on Green Bay now. That (Bears) game is over. The good thing is the guys that needed to lose with us lost, too. So we still control our own destiny as you say. We just got to win and take care of our own business."
To a degree, that's still true, but the chances are becoming thinner with each passing week, putting a premium on winning this week.
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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