Substitutes Young And Learning

The rebuilding phase of the Minnesota Vikings was supposed to be over, but injuries have forced head coach Mike Tice to continue putting inexperienced players out on the field.

Coach Mike Tice put a positive spin on the Vikings' near disastrous collapse in a 34-28 overtime escape at Houston on Sunday. In his defense, it made some sense.

"When (third-string) linebacker Max Yates went on the field and played two series at (middle linebacker in the second half), we were without 11 guys who either started or had a significant role in the opening-day victory against the Dallas Cowboys," Tice said a day after the Texans rallied from a 21-0 deficit with 28 points in the final 22 minutes of regulation. "Not one, not three, not five, not eight, but 11. ... It's a tribute to the coaches, the team, our college and pro scouting department, and to the players."

Yates, a former practice squad player, was out of football before the Vikings re-signed him during their bye week. Tight end Sean Berton, who contributed on Sunday, also was out of football, shopping at the Mall of America, when Tice called to re-sign him a couple of weeks ago.

"For a coaching staff to hang in there and find a way, and for players to hang in there and believe that a guy who wasn't even in the locker room last week or two weeks ago is standing next to you battling, is a tribute to the team," Tice said. "We almost gave it away, but we didn't. We almost collapsed, but we didn't."

The Vikings also started five rookies, including fourth-string running back Mewelde Moore, who responded with 182 yards from scrimmage and 12 catches.

Although the Vikings were happy with the victory, which maintained a first-place tie with Detroit in the NFC North at 3-1, they weren't happy enough to observe Victory Monday, a team ritual in which players are given Mondays off after a win. There was no practice, but players had to show up at Winter Park for meetings.

Some players said they were disappointed they didn't get the day off but accepted the fact the team needs an extra day of teaching. Especially the defense, which gave up 288 yards passing and three touchdowns after halftime.

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