The Vikings showed signs of promise heading into the final three weeks of the season, but their playoff elimination Sunday night has most everyone outside the locker room already looking ahead to 2006.
With the expected return of Matt Birk, Daunte Culpepper and Kenechi Udeze, the Vikings have three big-time players that were missing in action in 2005. There's reason for optimism, but the nagging question is going to be where the team goes from this point forward -- with or without Mike Tice.
Tice guaranteed that he will end this season with a losing career mark -- either one game under .500 or three games. But, he has earned the respect of his players and has brought an understanding of what it's like to be a player and how to overcome adversity. For the Vikings, the hole was too deep to climb out of, but their resilience under fire and salvaging a season that the Lions and Packers weren't able to do in similar circumstances could bode well for Tice.
While he maintains the focus is going to be solely on the Bears this week, there has to be a moment at the end of that game that he pauses and takes a look around the Metrodome. Until Zygi Wilf makes a final call, it could be his curtain call as Vikings head coach.
* The Bears will likely rest some of their frontline players Sunday, but who starts at quarterback? Everyone is ga-ga about Rex Grossman and his spark he brought the team at home against a frozen Falcons team and at Green Bay vs. an inept Packers team. The truth is Grossman needs the work. Orton has twice as many career NFL starts under his belt as does Grossman.
* Michael Bennett assessed his curious lack of use in Sunday's game by saying "I was kidnapped." After seeing Mewelde Moore rush four times for minus-1 yard in the last three weeks, Bennett got the cold shoulder. He had one carry for minus-1 yard and on his first carry, Moore rushed for 22 yards and got every RB carry the rest of the game. Another curious Ticeism came into play.
* The Vikings had just six offensive linemen on the roster Sunday night. Chris Liwienski was the only available exterior lineman and Anthony Herrera would have been the backup center.
* Corey Chavous, a free agent at the end of the season, started his 63rd straight game as a Viking despite a painful high ankle sprain.
* Travis Taylor was viewed as a goat by some (make that many) late in the game, but he got his revenge with a touchdown early in his Baltimore homecoming. It was his first TD since a two-TD game in Week 3 vs. the Saints.
* Troy Williamson's 56-yard reception was the longest reception surrendered by the Ravens this year.
* In the second half of the last two games, the Vikings offense has generated just 106 total yards of offense in 60 minutes.
* Derrick Mason set a Ravens record for receptions Sunday, finishing with nine catches. He broke the record set by Michael Jackson in 1996 with 76. Mason finished the game with 83 receptions this season with one game left.
Wait 'til Next Year
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