The season is only three weeks old and already the Vikings are breathing a sigh of relief to be entering a bye week.
Injuries are mounting at a pace not seen in Minnesota in recent seasons. Even with the bye, it's possible the Vikings will play at Houston on Oct. 10 minus six regular starters and nickel back Ken Irvin, who was scheduled to start the season as a temporary starter but ruptured his Achilles tendon in warm-ups before the first game.
"They always say you're one play away from getting in the game when you're a backup," said starting center Matt Birk, who might miss the Texans game because of a sprained left ankle. "I'm real proud of the way guys stepped up when they got in there."
Despite the injuries, the Vikings are tied with Detroit atop the NFC North with a 2-1 record. They beat Chicago 27-22 on Sunday, using 443 yards of offense to overcome the loss of three more starters.
Strongside linebacker Chris Claiborne strained his left calf on the second play of the game and did not return. He was replaced by smallish second-year pro Mike Nattiel and probably will be sidelined at least two weeks.
Early in the second quarter, starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson left because of a sprained left knee. He was replaced by former starting weakside linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, a rookie who hadn't played or practiced middle linebacker since last season at Auburn. Thomas responded with a game-high 11 tackles but will need the bye week to better prepare himself to step in as the starter. Henderson is expected to be out at least two weeks, probably longer.
Birk sprained his ankle in the second quarter. He returned before halftime, but sat out the second half because of swelling and weakness in the ankle. Longtime backup Cory Withrow, who played the first three preseason games while Birk recovered from hernia surgery, stepped in and played well.
The Vikings also were without right tackle Mike Rosenthal (foot), tight end Jim Kleinsasser (knee), Irvin and tight end Jermaine Wiggins (hand). Rosenthal, Kleinsasser and Irvin are on injured reserve. Wiggins probably won't return until the Oct. 17 game at New Orleans.
"We got the win, and we got more injuries," coach Mike Tice said Sunday. "If you look at it, the injuries are what make this such a special win."
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