Baltimore Presents Similar Test

While trying to recover from a serious dent to their playoff hopes, the Vikings must rebound quickly and face another tough defense.

Brad Johnson's perfect run as the Vikings' starting quarterback is over, and the team's playoff hopes are just about dead as a result.

Johnson, who had helped the Vikings rebound from a 2-5 start by going 6-0 as the starter in place of the injured Daunte Culpepper, could not lead Minnesota to a touchdown in an 18-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday at the Metrodome.

The Vikings faced only one team with a record above .500 during their winning streak (the New York Giants), so the Steelers were considered a true test of whether the Vikings were a playoff team.

Minnesota failed, as Johnson threw one more interception (two) against Pittsburgh than he had over the previous six starts. The loss leaves the Vikings with an 8-6 record heading into their regular-season road finale against Baltimore on Christmas night.

Coach Mike Tice knows his offense will be in for another big test against the Ravens. Pittsburgh entered Sunday ranked eighth in the NFL in total defense, while the Ravens were sixth. The Vikings close the season on Jan. 1 against Chicago's top-ranked defense.

"This game (at Baltimore) is going to be the same as this week's, the same thing," Tice said. "Whether they have Ray (Lewis, the injured Ravens linebacker) in there or not, they still have an excellent defense. They still have another couple players that can play. It doesn't make it any easier, obviously, but what we have to worry about is Baltimore and getting that ninth victory."

Tice also has to worry about keeping his defensive players positive despite the struggles of the Vikings offense. The offense had its problems in a 27-13 victory over St. Louis on Dec. 11 and essentially melted down against the Steelers.

"I could see (the defense) in the fourth quarter getting a little frustrated," Tice said. "I know it was tough on them. ... That's two weeks in a row. We are all human beings, and when guys are working that hard, I'm not going to say there's going to be any finger pointing. But I'd be a fool to say they're not frustrated. You kind of try to see how they come off the field or go on the field."

NOTES

  • DT Kevin Williams returned after missing two games because of a sprained right knee. Williams was second on the Vikings with six tackles and had a sack against Pittsburgh.

  • RT Marcus Johnson sprained his right ankle in the third quarter against Pittsburgh and did not return. He was wearing a walking boot on his foot afterward, and the Vikings are concerned he might miss some time. Veteran Mike Rosenthal, benched in favor of Johnson, would return to a starting role if that's the case.

  • C Melvin Fowler sprained his left ankle in the third quarter against Pittsburgh and did not return. Cory Withrow replaced him.

  • LB Napoleon Harris suffered a concussion in the second half against Pittsburgh.

  • DE Darrion Scott suffered a right arm stinger in the first quarter against Pittsburgh but was able to return.

  • TE Jermaine Wiggins sprained his left ankle in the third quarter against Pittsburgh but returned.

  • P Chris Kluwe was back Sunday against Pittsburgh after missing one game because of a strained right knee. The rookie's return should mean the Vikings will release veteran punter Darren Bennett.

  • CB Fred Smoot, an offseason free agent pickup from Washington, continues to play in the nickel package. Brian Williams, who replaced Smoot when he missed four games because of a fractured collarbone, remains the starter.


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