For the other 97 percent of the surface area of the United States, the 2-5 Vikings in a grudge match with the 1-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers would appear to be For Relatives Only. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman won’t be calling this one on FOX.
But for a Vikings team looking to keep its 2014 playoff hopes alive, there’s nothing like a 1-5 team on the schedule to renew hopes that if they can get a run together, the Vikings can still make a playoff push in the second half of the season.
Just because both teams have been struggled doesn’t mean that Sunday’s game can’t be potentially impressive. The Vikings aren’t looking past the Buccaneers and are expecting to see their best on Sunday.
“You can’t take any team lightly in the NFL,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “If they’re 1-6 or 0-6, you can get beat any week by any team out there. The best thing for us to do is go out there, play our style of ball and dominate.”
With both teams desperate for a win – neither has won a game in October – Sunday’s game can infuse some life into the winner as they close out the October portion of their 2014 schedule. The Vikings are coming off their toughest loss of the season but don’t view the Buccaneers as an easy win that can help get their season back on track. If they’re going to beat Tampa Bay, they know they’re going to have to earn it, regardless of the struggles the Bucs have had this season.
“We really don’t worry much about what they have going on,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “We have to worry about what we have going on right now. We have a couple of things that we have to tighten up on and go out and perform the way that we know how to perform. Once we get those things ironed out, everything will be good.”
Losing is always difficult and last Sunday’s loss at Buffalo, where the game-winning touchdown came with just one tick left on the game clock, is one that wasn’t easy to accept. But the Vikings realize the Bucs aren’t going to take any pity on them and the Vikings can’t dwell on the past – even though the loss to Buffalo is a loss that will linger in the memory a little longer than most.
“Sometimes you have big wins and those are hard to shake, and sometimes have tough losses and those are hard to shake,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “In the NFL, can’t sit there and pout and whine. The next team you play isn’t going to feel sorry for you. You have to put it behind you and get ready for the next opponent.” The Vikings may not look like they’re turning a corner, but, from the defensive side, the team is starting to find an identity for itself. The Vikings have allowed just 17 points in each of the last two games and feel they’re not that far away from being a team that may need to be reckoned with as they start to translate the concepts of Mike Zimmer’s defense to the field on game day.
“I think we’re getting close,” Brinkley said. “You can tell on film that we’re coming together – not that we were separated, but we just having been doing all the things that (Zimmer) expects us to do. We’re really close now.”
For fans, the prospect of going up against a 1-5 team is reason for optimism and the chance for the Vikings to manhandle a lesser team. But the players aren’t assuming a win or taking Tampa Bay’s struggles for granted, because they know that on any given Sunday, anyone can get beat.
“It means nothing to me,” Robison said. “It means we’re going into a hostile environment that we have to win on the road. It doesn’t really matter what the records are in the NFL. Every week, you throw those out the window because it’s a new game. Records mean nothing to me. The only thing that means anything to me is all 11 guys being assignment sound on Sunday and winning the ballgame.”
The Vikings will be looking to get their record to 3-5 and stop the bleeding from what has been an October to forget. The fact that the team looks to be improving is encouraging, but not a sign that the team has turned the corner. Until the improvement translates to wins, the job isn’t done yet.
“At the end of the day, you want the win,” Brinkley said. “In this league, there are no moral victories.”