Vikings Settling Into New-Look Offense

The Vikings are more concerned with winning than putting up 35 point a game.

Once known for a high-flying offensive attack that could strike fear in the best of defenses, the Vikings have put together a three-game winning streak with a new outlook on how to win games.

It's one born more out of necessity than choice.

With Randy Moss in Oakland and Daunte Culpepper out for the season after knee surgery, the Vikings offense is being guided by a 37-year old quarterback, Brad Johnson, whose lack of flash is only overshadowed by a lack of costly mistakes.

Johnson's ability to stay away from errors has enabled him to go 3-0 since taking over as the starter - which has gotten the Vikings back to .500 at 5-5 - after Culpepper tore three ligaments in his right knee in an Oct. 30 loss at Carolina.

Johnson will go for a fourth consecutive victory Sunday when the Vikings play host to the Cleveland Browns at the Metrodome. He enters the game with only three touchdown passes but just one interception in 216 attempts.

Johnson also has led two game-winning drives in the past two weeks that resulted in Paul Edinger hitting field goals as time expired against the New York Giants and Green Bay. As a result, the Vikings are two games behind the first-place Chicago Bears in the NFC North.

As evidenced by his touchdown passes, Johnson's effectiveness can't be measured through the usual stats.

You have to look at things such as the fact he has been sacked 14 times. Yes, the Vikings line needs to do a better job protecting him, but the sack total is a testament to the fact Johnson is willing to take a hit rather than throw an ill-advised pass to avoid the pressure.

Coach Mike Tice realizes his offense isn't playing its best, but he knows that contributions must come from other areas.

"We're not going to go out and score 35, 40 points much unless we get a bunch of turnovers, so we've got to be able to play great special teams, which we are playing," he said. "We've got to be able to play great defense, which we are playing, limit the big plays if we can, then offensively move the ball and get points when we move the ball."

Informed this didn't sound like the Vikings' philosophy, Tice responded: "Times have changed. As long as we're winning, it doesn't bother me at all. I'm kind of liking this new way. It works pretty good on the road, it looks like. But ... if we're going to do it this way, players and coaches have to be patient offensively because we're not going to get the huge chunks of yardage down the field as much as we have."

The one big key for the Vikings' new offense is the ability to at least have the running game as a threat. That enables effective use of a play-action pass that opponents must pay attention to. If opponents can ignore the play-action, Johnson's win streak will soon come to an end.

NOTES

  • RB Mewelde Moore practiced Wednesday despite spraining both ankles against the Packers. He is probable for Sunday's game against Cleveland.

  • WR Troy Williamson has a sprained shoulder and missed part of practice Wednesday. He also is listed as probable.

  • TE Jim Kleinsasser has a groin injury but practiced Wednesday and is not on the injury report.

  • C Melvin Fowler, who missed Monday's game because of a strained oblique muscle, practiced Wednesday and isn't on the injury report.

  • G Toniu Fonoti suffered a strained left groin in the third quarter at Green Bay and isn't expected to play Sunday against Cleveland. Fonoti's conditioning still needs plenty of work.

  • WR Nate Burleson, who was deactivated for Monday night's game because of hip, knee and shoulder problems, practiced Wednesday and should be all right to play Sunday.

  • DL Spencer Johnson was inactive for the fifth time in six games because of an MCL injury in his right knee but is hoping he will be able to play Sunday. Coach Mike Tice said no decision has been made, and Johnson is listed as questionable.

  • CB Fred Smoot, who is out because of a broken collarbone, has been declared out for Sunday's game but could return the following week at Detroit. Smoot has missed the past two games but took part in a portion of practice Wednesday.

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