The Vikings are 7-5, exactly where they were during last season's historic collapse. But coach Mike Tice said he hasn't received the number of nasty emails and letters that he received from fans at this point last season.
"I think people recognize we're a different team than last season," Tice said. "We have more character and better players, frankly."
Tice has gone out of his way to be over-the-top positive and appreciative of the Vikings' opportunity to win the NFC North by finishing the season 4-0. It's an effort to sever ties to last week's 24-14 loss at Chicago, the second deflating December road loss to the Bears in the past two seasons.
"Why not be positive?" Tice asked. "We're still 7-5 and tied for first place with Green Bay. We still control our own destiny. If we do our job the next 24 days, it doesn't matter what anyone else does. That's a good feeling."
Last season, the Vikings went 3-7 over the last 10 games and joined the 1978 Redskins as the only teams to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs. The Vikings are 2-4 since starting 5-1 this season.
Tice is in the final year of his contract, and is making only $750,000. Owner Red McCombs has an option year for $1 million that he can exercise in January. McCombs is waiting to see how the regular season plays out.
Tice said he refuses to let his contract situation worry him or the team. He even joked about it during a press conference.
"If we take care of what we need to take care of, everything will be OK," Tice said. "If we don't take care of what we should take care of, then a whole lot of things will change. I'll be coaching special teams at Mississippi Community College, and some players will get run out of here."
Maybe playing Seattle at home on Sunday will help. The Vikings were 7-5 and reeling last season when the routed the Seahawks 34-7 at the Metrodome.
— LB Raonall Smith will miss his sixth consecutive game because of two concussions. But he practiced Thursday for the second consecutive day and, barring a setback, will return to the field next week at Detroit. His presence will help on special teams and possibly at linebacker.
— CB Antoine Winfield will miss Sunday's game against Seattle, but his high left ankle sprain is healing quickly. The Vikings believe he has a good chance of playing some in the nickel defense next week at Detroit.
— LB Chris Claiborne finally is rounding into shape after four starts since coming back from a strained left calf. He played his best game of the season last Sunday, despite the loss to Chicago.
— C Matt Birk will miss his third consecutive game because of hernia surgery. He might be able to play against Detroit next week, but definitely is on schedule for the following week against the Packers.
— CB Terrance Shaw, a 10-year veteran who was acquired after the first game of the season, will start in place of Antoine Winfield the next two weeks. Shaw has one of the team's five interceptions, and gets his hands on as many passes in practice as any Vikings defender.
Mike Holmgren was fiery and energetic at practice Thursday, but his performance at a press conference one day earlier left the impression that Seattle's coach was wearing down.
Six losses in nine games have taken a toll.
"There are some coaches that I admire greatly that seem to be able to, you know, whatever happens, happens, and off we go to the next (game)," Holmgren said. "Unfortunately, I'm not like that.
"And I think I've been at it a while now, so it's starting to ... you take too many body blows, you know, boom-boom, pretty soon, you can't take so many anymore."
Seattle's loss on Monday night was particularly painful because Dallas overcame a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes. The game resembled an October loss to the Rams in which Seattle squandered a 17-point fourth-quarter lead.
At 6-6, the team is tied atop the NFC West, but a 7-9 finish seems possible given the sorry state of an injury-riddled defense. With road games at the Vikings and Jets on the horizon, speculation is mounting that Holmgren might not return if the Seahawks stumble too badly down the stretch.
"As much as I try to avoid it, I hear it and I'm human," Holmgren said. "I'm disappointed. I'm as disappointed as anybody at some of the things that have happened. What happens with the future, my future is Minnesota. That's my future. Then my future after that will be the Jets. All that other stuff is for another time and other people, and I'm just going to do what I do and coach the way I coach and try and get us into the playoffs."
Holmgren has produced records of 9-7, 6-10, 9-7, 7-9 and 10-6 before this season. His regular-season record is 47-45.
"The expectation level is high - extremely high - and it (was) high for me coming into this season," Holmgren said. "I don't expect the fans to understand some of the business side of a franchise that sometimes has to take place.
"Our fans understand, really, the bottom line of winning and losing. They're passionate about their football team. So I can understand the feeling.
"My commitment and what we're trying to accomplish has never wavered and I'll keep coaching the same way."
--DT Craig Terrill worked with the starters Thursday for a second consecutive day as the team continued to play without top players at the position. The hope is that DT Cedric Woodard can start Sunday despite a knee injury.