The Minnesota Vikings have had their struggles over the last month, dropping three of their last four games, but thanks to a 7-2 start to the season they’re still in a position to control their own destiny for both a playoff spot and a division title.
Currently standing in their way are the Chicago Bears, who would like nothing more than to play the role of spoiler to the Vikings’ playoff push. Veteran Captain Munnerlyn is no stranger to the late-season run for the postseason and knows there will be a little extra juice for both teams in Sunday’s matchup at TCF Bank Stadium because familiarity in the NFL breeds contempt.
“Any time you play a team twice a year, you get familiar with what they do and those games always tend to be more physical,” Munnerlyn said. “We know the things that they’ve done against us, so they will probably try to change some things up.”
For the Vikings secondary, keeping Alshon Jeffery in check is the top priority. Jay Cutler’s favorite receiver has gashed the Vikings. In three of his last four games, he posted monster numbers (12-249-2, 11-135-1 and 10-116-1 in their first meeting this season).
The Vikings need to provide extra attention to Jeffery, but Munnerlyn said they can’t give too much attention to Jeffery and get away from the playing the kind of defense that has got the Vikings on the doorstep of the playoffs. That’s not their style and there’s no reason to make drastic changes.
“When we played them in Chicago, we gave up some plays we shouldn’t have,” Munnerlyn said. “We can’t say that we’re going to put two guys on him and make them beat us with somebody else because this is the NFL. Everybody’s good on this level. We just have to execute what we do and limit what they are able to do against us.”
With the pressure dialing up as the regular season nears its conclusion, Munnerlyn sees the Vikings as being where they want to be and it’s a matter of taking care of their business to prepare themselves for the one-and-done pressure of the postseason.
While it isn’t always easy to do, the Vikings’ veterans are stepping up to keep the young players keeping their heads right and not putting too much pressure on themselves. In a one-game-at-a-time world, they need to remain focused on doing the little things and not allowing the big-picture distractions to get in the way.
“You have to try as best you can to treat it like any other game,” Munnerlyn said. “I talk to the younger guys about it that we have to win this game because it is important, but we have to treat it like any other game. We’ve got to take care of business and that starts in the locker room with the veteran guys talking to the younger guys. If you make it out to be too much, that’s when you make mistakes and play too high and tight.”
- On Friday, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority approved an additional $50 million in private funding (translation: more money from the Vikings for take care of several extra touches the Wilfs want to put on the new stadium, like a Vikings ship and a pedestrian bridge. When the stadium was initially approved the taxpayer funding was $498 million, with the Wilfs kicking in $477 million. By this summer, the Vikings’ contribution will likely be up to $630 million – an increase of more than 30 percent of the amount agreed on when the stadium bill was initially passed.
- Winter took a bite out of Minnesota Friday, as temperatures dropped for a rare below-average temperature for the start of the winter season, but the local weather forecasts for Sunday have temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
- The Vikings are hoping Linval Joseph will be back Sunday. If not, it will be the sixth game in which the Vikings haven’t had Joseph and Sharrif Floyd together. Floyd missed three games earlier this year, including the first Chicago game.
- As much as Alshon Jeffery has owned the Vikings, catching 10 or more passes in three of his last four games, he came back to practice Friday and has more than a little reason to try to catch 10-plus passes for a fourth time in five games. In three games, he will become an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps he may be auditioning for a job in Minnesota – for better than Bernard Berrian money.
- Tampa Bay’s loss Thursday was a big boost for the Vikings playoff hopes. The Bucs were one of the few teams that could have had wild card advantages over the Vikings in a potential 9-7 tie scenario. With the Bucs now at 6-8, they’ve all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention, putting one less obstacle in front of the Vikings.