The Vikings are riding a four-game winning streak and lead the NFC North by a game over Detroit, but there is a sense of uneasiness among the coaching staff at Winter Park.
As well there should be.
This is the point last season when the Vikings began their historic collapse. And, strangely, the Game 7 opponent (the Giants) and the venue (the Metrodome) are the same as last season.
Last year, the Giants compiled 450 yards of offense in a 29-17 upset, handing the Vikings their first loss of the season and triggering a 3-7 freefall. When the tumbling finally ended with players sprawled on the grass after a season-ending loss at Arizona, the Vikings had joined the 1978 Redskins as the only teams to start a season 6-0 and not make the playoffs.
"This is the time last year where I thought we drifted a little bit," coach Mike Tice said. "Ultimately, that has to come down to me for letting that happen."
Tice carefully crafts a theme for his large news conferences on Mondays and Wednesdays. He is playing the part of a grumpy, demanding coach this week even though the Vikings are coming off a 20-3 victory over Tennessee without Randy Moss for all but two token plays that were little more than a sham to keep his streak of games played intact.
"This will be a tough week for us," Tice said. "We don't want to get too full of ourselves. We certainly haven't accomplished anything yet."
Tice said Wednesday's practice would be hard, long and fully padded. He didn't plan to let up much on Thursday, either.
While the players work physically, Tice will continue studying why his 2003 team collapsed. On Monday, assistant coaches were grilled by Tice on how each of them can be better coaches.
Tice set aside 30 minutes for that particular session of mind control.
"And I ran out of time pointing things out," he said.
Tice is convinced the Vikings are a better team at 5-1 than they were at 6-0 last season. Speed on defense, particularly at linebacker, and depth are two of the many areas he believes are better this season than in 2003.
"We're clearly a better football team," Tice said.
Maybe, but the Vikings have to prove it beginning Sunday against a Giants team that isn't too happy to be coming off a loss to Detroit at home.
"Hopefully," Tice said, "the outcome will be a lot better feeling than we had last year when some said that we embarrassed everybody after that particular game."
The reference was to owner Red McCombs' actions in the locker room after the game. McCombs interrupted Tice during his speech to the team and told the players they had "humiliated" themselves, the fans and the Vikings' entire organization.
McCombs apologized to Tice, but sore feelings obviously remain.
The best way for Tice to shove it back in the owner's face is to beat the Giants and avoid another historic collapse.
Tice Focused On Avoiding Collapse
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