OL To Shift ... Again

A pair of ankle injuries could keep two of the Vikings' starting offensive linemen sidelined Sunday as the Vikings try to keep their 2005 season alive.

By the time the Vikings play the Ravens Christmas night, they're going to know exactly where they stand in the NFC playoff race. Being the last NFC team to play in Week 16, the team will already know if the Bears have won and clinched the NFC North and if any of the three teams they're currently tied with have lost, which would open the door for the Vikings to step up.

But, if they're going to do that, it's going to have to be without two of their starting offensive linemen. Coach Mike Tice said Monday he expects both center Melvin Fowler and right tackle Marcus Johnson to miss Sunday's game with ankle injuries. Fowler has a left ankle injury while Johnson has a right ankle problem.

The injuries will once again shuffle the deck for the offensive line, which has seen only Bryant McKinnie start every game at the same position.

In their place, Mike Rosenthal will return as the starting right tackle and Cory Withrow will resume his role as starting center.

* As if the Vikings injuries to big men on the offensive front weren't bad enough, TE Jermaine Wiggins, who had a great deal of difficulty climbing the steps from the locker room to the parking lot at the Metrodome Sunday, was wearing a immobilizing boot on his left ankle Monday. However, Wiggins is expected to play Sunday.
* Tice laid out the playoff scenarios to the team Monday, explaining how the team still is very much alive but needs help from others. He added, "If we don't beat Baltimore, then all of the scenarios are moot."
* From the Department of Irony comes this: Tice estimated that 15,000-20,000 fans at Sunday's game were Steelers fans. While VU put that number at closer to 10,000, you couldn't walk through the Metrodome -- or even Mall of America following the game -- without seeing a ton of Pittsburgh fans. Tice blamed season ticket holders for selling their tickets -- he knows a few things about selling tickets at a profit -- and theorized that maybe they needed extra money for Christmas gifts or bailed on the team when it was 2-5.
* Keith Newman has been ruled out for Sunday's game, which was expected.
* Darren Bennett was released Monday. The team is expected to bring WR Chris Jones up from the practice squad to see time on special teams.
* Monday's game was troubling in two respects. The Ravens, who had scored more than 20 points just once this year, set a franchise record with 48 points. Meanwhile the loss was the worst for the Packers in 25 years, and the Vikings need Green Bay to beat Chicago Sunday with a short week of practice and coming off their worst defeat in the Brett Favre era.

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