Fine Line Separates Winners and Losers

Dennis Green gave directions and the players failed to execute them in Tampa Bay, says tight end Byron Chamberlain. That could be one of the things separating the Vikings and winning.

Win or lose, you can usually count on Vikings coach Denny Green to supply copious amounts of verbiage while stating the obvious concerning his team's performance rather than confronting the facts.

Granted, his critiques rarely speak to the definitive reasons for big losses on the part of his charges, but the fact of the matter seems to be that when the situation is obvious to everyone Green figures that nothing can be served by resorting to "coach speak" in an effort to put a different face on things.

For example, Green's remarks to the local media during his regularly scheduled Monday press conference after the loss to Tampa Bay. "We feel very disappointed about how we played in our performance. I think part of it was Tampa Bay. They had an outstanding game … played extremely well … got on the field … we couldn't get them off the field. And in contrast, we could not get our offense in gear, and I think that made a big difference."

A week later, after Minnesota's bye week, the bitter taste of the Tampa Bay loss had subsided somewhat and Green was back looking at things from the standpoint of the overall season. In particular, his view of the NFC Central Division race.

Said Green: "Chicago is playing some good football, but there's no way you can ascertain how good a team is until you've played 14, 15 or 16 games. They've been making an incredible amount of plays. They've had a lot of good fortune, making plays with that good fortune and turning them into points. They've had four consecutive defensive touchdowns, which hardly ever happens, and I think they're playing with a great deal of confidence."

As for the rest of the NFC Central Division, Green said, "Green Bay is playing extremely well at home, Tampa Bay has an outstanding record at home, not quite so good on the road. We have a good record at home, not good on the road. The teams that will do the best will be the ones that continue to win at home and also can win on the road."

So much for the obvious.

Vikings tight end Byron Chamberlain, who possesses two Super Bowl championship rings from his days with the Denver Broncos, says winning and losing and performing with consistency is mainly up to the players.

"Talent-wise there is not much difference between two teams in this league," said Chamberlain. "Every team is talented, stacked in every position. But there's a little extra that goes into it. It's a fine line and at times it's just that intensity, just that will to win and playing mistake-free football, that makes the difference.

As Chamberlain sees it, a winning attitude is a shared responsibility between coaches and players, and he absolved Green of any blame for the Vikings' letdown in Tampa Bay. "They were going to come out and play their best defensive game against our offense," Chamberlain said. "We knew it and Denny knew it. He kept stressing it all week."

In spite of the coach's warnings, however, Chamberlain said, "It turned out that everything he told us to do we did the opposite."

Wherever the ultimate responsibility lies, the fact remains that the first half of the 2001 season has been one of peaks and valleys for the Vikings. The question now: What can be done to reverse the trend for the rest of the campaign?

Among other things, Chamberlain says, "It definitely has to start with your veteran leadership. It has to start with your veteran players because many times you get rookies out there who don't have a clue. They get too high with the wins, like the emotional win we had against Green Bay, and they don't know how to separate it and put it aside and go on to the next game.

"I don't know. I guess it's something we've got to learn, and we've got to learn it quick."

A nose for respect
Center Matt Birk described the scene when quarterback Daunte Culpepper suffered a broken nose at the beginning of the game against the Bucs. It was not all that unusual as injuries go in the NFL, but Birk expressed admiration for the way Culpepper carried on for the rest of the game.

"He's a warrior," Birk exclaimed. "He came back to the huddle and blood was gushing out of his nose and he couldn't see. I give the guy a lot of credit for hanging in there. He didn't back down, and he kept running the ball hard. As an offensive lineman, that's the kind of guy you want to block for, the kind of guy you want to go to war with." VU

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