Vikings Must Improve, Must Win

The Vikings are digging themselves a hole and putting themselves in the general vicinity of that "must-win" phrase. The statistics say it and the players are saying it.

A disappointing loss at home in Week 1 to Tampa Bay raised some eyebrows in Minnesota. An embarrassing 37-8 defeat in Week 2 at Cincinnati started the questions rolling about Mike Tice's job security.

And so the Vikings enter Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints with a coach who might not make it through the final year of his contract, a Pro Bowl quarterback - Daunte Culpepper - with a horrendous 41.6 rating, and a new offensive coordinator - Steve Loney - who might or might not be calling plays come Sunday.

The term "must-win" has been used on several occasions in the Vikings locker room this week and a few veterans said a players-only meeting would be held to discuss issues. While the Vikings can ill afford to drop to 0-3 overall and 0-2 at the Metrodome with a loss Sunday, the team has one thing going for it.

The NFC North is shaping up as the NFL's worst division. For the first time, the Vikings and Packers have started off 0-2. Still, those teams are only one game behind the 1-1 Lions and Bears.

Statistically, though, the Vikings have dug themselves a bit of a hole.

Since 1990, the first season of the 12-team playoff format, 17 of the 121 teams (14 percent) that were 0-2 qualified for the postseason. Three of those clubs, the 1993 Dallas Cowboys and the 1996 and 2001 New England Patriots, ended up in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys and 2001 Patriots both won titles.

Improvement must start with an offense that has accounted for one touchdown in eight quarters - a meaningless 5-yard score by Culpepper with the Vikings trailing 37-0 late in the fourth quarter last Sunday - but has turned over the ball 12 times in 24 possessions.

Tice very well could take a more active role in play-calling this week but he wouldn't comment on the issue Wednesday.

"We're looking into changes that we'll make this week, and as the week progresses we'll look at a number of things," he said.

Of course, if Culpepper's play does not improve it won't matter who is sending in the plays. Culpepper must start by cutting out the turnovers. He has 10 in two games, including eight interceptions.

Culpepper said the key is not trying to do too much at one time.

"Just let it happen [and] when it is there take it, if it is not there, do what I've got to do with it," he said. "Make sure that I keep the ball in our hands at the end of every possession, a touchdown first or a field goal or we punt the ball to them."

Tice also would not commit to who his starting running back would be after Michael Bennett was benched in the second quarter last Sunday following his second fumble of the day. Many in the Vikings organization favor Mewelde Moore, and he could get the start against a Saints team that is tied for 23rd in run defense after two games.


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