The Vikings are irritated with losing five of their last six games, and it may be showing the most with head coach Mike Tice, who is sick of the penalties contributing to losses.
As he prepares for Sunday's game against Seattle at the Metrodome, Vikings coach Mike Tice
has made it clear he is done protecting his players.
He called them out publicly on Monday for the first time, saying they lacked "mental toughness." He also said he will pull players out of future games immediately after they commit "dumb" penalties and mistakes.
The Vikings, who are the second-most penalized team in the league with 102, had 11 penalties in Sunday's 48-17 loss at St. Louis. Tice said seven of them, including six false starts, were "dumb" penalties.
Players were warned that dumb mistakes in the future would result in a lonely and embarrassing jog to the sideline in front of more than 60,000 fans.
"It is surprising to me based on the training camp that we put in that we are lacking mental toughness," Tice said. "I think when stuff goes wrong with us right now we are looking around waiting for something else to go wrong. I can't use the excuse that we're young anymore. We have to grow up and get tough. More than physically, we have to get mentally tough."
Tice is unhappy with several players, mostly on defense. He made a handful of changes that went into effect Wednesday in practice.
replaced Henri Crockett
at strong-side linebacker. Rookie E.J. Henderson
will rotate every three series in the base defense with 34-year-old Greg Biekert
, who already had lost his duties in the nickel defense to Henderson.
Rookie Kevin Williams
, who starts at left end, will play more nose tackle in the base defense. That means less playing time for nose tackle Fred Robbins
will move from right end to left end when Williams shifts to nose tackle. Chuck Wiley
will then play right end.
Cornerback Denard Walker
, who lost his starting job to Ken Irvin
last month, could rejoin the starting lineup. Irvin would take Walker's spot as the nickel back.
Offensively, wide receiver D'Wayne Bates will return to the starting lineup after missing two games because of a hamstring injury. Offensive lineman Everett Lindsay
and Lewis Kelly
also will be active and could rotate with the starters.
The Vikings didn't make one personnel move during their six-game winning streak to start the season. But they've lost five of six and, despite a one-game lead in the NFC North Division, they're reeling.
The players seemed upbeat and positive Wednesday. Tice was over-the-top giddy.
But one has to wonder how the players will react to another loss and a Green Bay victory. That would tie up the division that once seemed sewn up in October.
Tice calling them out publicly or embarrassing them in front of the home crowd might not go over well if the team loses. Tice, of course, gets benefit of the doubt because he played 14 NFL seasons.
But this certainly is a delicate time in his young coaching career.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
The Vikings and five other teams are a league-worst 1-5 since Oct. 26. Oakland (3-9) and San Diego (2-10) would be 0-6 — if they hadn't beaten the Vikings. "To lose by 30 points is an embarrassment," Vikings center Matt Birk said after Sunday's 48-17 loss at St. Louis. "You lose by 30 points, you don't feel like a first place team."
The Vikings have been alone in first place in the NFC North since beating Chicago 24-13 in the second week of the season. Their lead is one game over Green Bay (6-6), which plays Chicago at home Sunday. The Bears are 1-6 on the road. The Vikings play Seattle, which is 1-4 on the road, but 8-4 overall and a better team than the one that crushed the Vikings 48-23 in Seattle last season. While the Vikings are 1-5 over the past six weeks, the rest of the NFC North has fared much better. Chicago is 4-2, while Detroit and Green Bay are 3-3. "You don't want to be going (into the playoffs) backwards, losing six games out of seven and getting help from everybody else," Vikings cornerback Ken Irvin said. "We can't keep saying we're learning from our losses, because the losses are mounting up."
Although Sunday's game could still end up being an NFC wild card preview, it isn't there quite yet. If the season were to end today, the Vikings would play Dallas (8-4) in a wild card game at the Metrodome. Seattle (8-4) would play at NFC South leader Carolina (8-4) in the NFC's other wild card game. The Cowboys, who trail Philadelphia by a game in the NFC East, would draw the Vikings because of the NFL's fourth wild card tiebreaker, "strength of victory." The opponents Dallas has beaten have a 42-54 record. The opponents Carolina has beaten have a 40-56 record. The best wild-card team opens the playoffs at the worst division leader.
In last year's 48-23 loss at Seattle, QB Daunte Culpepper completed 29 of 53 passes (54.7) for 273 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 53.4 passer rating. He also ran nine times for 63 yards and a touchdown. WR Randy Moss had six receptions for 50 yards and no touchdowns.
The Vikings are the second-most penalized team in the NFL. They have 102 penalties. Oakland has 112. While Raiders coach Bill Callahan said he must have the "dumbest team in America," Vikings coach Mike Tice called seven of his team's 11 penalties against the Rams "dumb penalties." Six were false starts and one was for illegal downfield on a punt. Offensive tackle Mike Rosenthal had three false starts. "We don't have a mentally tough football team right now," Tice said. Tice also vowed to remove any player who makes a dumb penalty. The player will be yanked during a series and have to stand next to Tice.
Seahawks DT John Randle played 11 seasons for the Vikings. He was a Pro Bowl player six times in Minnesota. He has four sacks this season and 136 in his career. He left the Vikings following the 2000 season and signed with Seattle as a free agent. Randle had 11 sacks in 2001 and seven last season.
Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck's father, Don Hasselbeck, played tight end for the Vikings in 1984. Don played nine seasons for four teams.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6.0-5.9 — The first number is the Vikings' average gain per play, which ranks first in the NFL. The second is the Vikings' average gain allowed per play, which ranks last in the NFL.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Vikings' roster shuffling seems to signal 2003 as the final NFL season for MLB Greg Biekert. It's clearly his final year with the Vikings.
The 34-year-old has another year left on his contract with the Vikings. But he's lost a step or more. He also has to deal with living apart from his wife and three young daughters, who stayed behind in Oakland when Biekert signed with the Vikings before the 2002 season.
Last month, the Vikings replaced Biekert in the nickel defense with rookie second-round pick E.J. Henderson. Beginning Sunday against Seattle, Henderson also will rotate with Biekert every third series in the base defense.
Henderson is much quicker and faster sideline to sideline.
TE Jim Kleinsasser suffered a hip pointer against the Rams, but isn't expected to miss any playing time.
WR D'Wayne Bates has only seven catches this season, but the Vikings are expecting their former No. 2 receiver to return to the starting lineup against Seattle this week. Bates was inactive the past two games because of a hamstring injury. He has been inactive in six games and played only one series in a seventh while battling foot and hamstring injuries. The Vikings need his experience back in the lineup for the shorter passes that are open when WR Randy Moss is running deep routes.
WR Randy Moss needs three catches to move past Steve Jordan into second place in Vikings history. Moss has 496 catches. Jordan had 498. The Vikings' career leader is Cris Carter, who had 1,004. Moss has caught a pass in 92 consecutive games, ranking third in team history. Anthony Carter is second at 105. Cris Carter leads with 111.
LB Max Yates was promoted from the practice squad after KR Nick Davis was released on Tuesday. Yates is a good special teams player and promising backup middle linebacker. At 6-3, 238, he'll need to get bigger and stronger, but the Vikings have liked his work ethic since inviting him to their 2002 training camp as an undrafted rookie out of Marshall. Yates has been on the practice squad the past three games.
OL Everett Lindsay and Lewis Kelly usually aren't active in the same game. But coach Mike Tice is so fed up with false-start penalties, he wants both of them active against Seattle. Kelly, the heir apparent at right guard, probably will alternate with David Dixon. Lindsay can play all five line positions. RT Mike Rosenthal gave up four sacks and had three of the team's six false starts at St. Louis.