Steelers a Proving Game

The Vikings have won six straight games, but they are well aware that they need to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday to make the playoffs and become a legitimate contender to those outside the locker room.

And now for the tough part.

In building their six-game winning streak, the Vikings have beaten only one team with a record north of .500. Besides that miraculous victory over the New York Giants - one that included touchdowns on interception, kickoff and punt returns - the Vikings have beaten Detroit (4-9) twice, Green Bay (3-10), Cleveland (4-9) and St. Louis (5-8).

On Sunday, though, the Vikings (8-5) will attempt to remain in the middle of the NFC playoff race against a quality opponent that also faces a must-win situation. The Pittsburgh Steelers also are 8-5 and after losing three in a row rebounded to end the Chicago Bears' eight-game winning streak with a 21-9 victory last Sunday.

While the Steelers' success was good news for the Vikings - it enabled Minnesota to pull within a game of Chicago in the NFC North - it also means the Vikings will be facing a team with plenty of confidence.

A Vikings victory Sunday would make believers of many, while a loss would leave many questioning whether the turnaround from a 2-5 record was anything more than a bit of luck when it came to the schedule.

"I told the team (Wednesday) morning that this is the game where if you want to earn some respect and be mentioned as a playoff team, this is the game you do it, quite frankly," coach Mike Tice said. "The other games are nice, it got us back in it, but a game like this is a game where now all of a sudden they start talking, meaning you guys (the media), start talking of you as a playoff team."

If that is going to happen, the Vikings are going to need more production from their 25th-ranked offense. Given a short field on two occasions last Sunday against a porous Rams defense, the Vikings managed only two field goals. Minnesota also had eight three-and-outs, raising Tice's ire.

The defense continues to create turnovers, including five interceptions against Rams rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Getting more consistency from the offense won't be an easy task for the Vikings considering they must face Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago to close out the season.

Pittsburgh is ranked eighth in the NFL in total defense, while Baltimore is sixth and Chicago is first. The Green Bay Packers (No. 5) are the only top-10 defense the Vikings have faced during their winning streak.

"We have to gear up because (we have) three elite defenses in the last three games," guard Adam Goldberg said. "If we're going to make this playoff run a reality, we're going to have to hold our weight."


  • RB Mewelde Moore has only two rushing attempts in the past two games and most recently has been slowed by an injury to his right quadriceps. He is listed as probable on the injury report.

  • LB Napoleon Harris, who was obtained in the off-season trade with Oakland for receiver Randy Moss, has been a major disappointment so far this season. Harris, however, gets his chance this week to compete for the starting spot at strongside linebacker with Keith Newman out due to a knee injury.

  • LB Keith Newman is listed as out for Sunday because of a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He is expected to miss two to four weeks.

  • DT Kevin Williams is set to return Sunday after missing two games because of a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Williams was back at practice Wednesday.

  • LB Heath Farwell, who plays on all of the Vikings' special teams, will be back after missing one game because of a sprained left knee.

  • P Chris Kluwe (knee) punted Wednesday and is expected to be healthy enough to handle the assignment Sunday after missing one game. The Vikings have kept Darren Bennett on the roster just in case Kluwe suffers a setback. Kluwe is listed as questionable on the injury report.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 12 - The longest winning streak in Vikings history. It occurred in 1969.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "As an offense, we're going to have to step up and we're going to have to do something to carry our weight and obviously give us a chance to win ballgames. Defensively, we're playing well, but there's going to come a point where we've got to do something as an offense to be more consistent (and) help out a lot more than what we've been doing." - Tight end Jermaine Wiggins on the need for the Vikings offense to produce.

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