NOTEBOOK: Vikings Find Motivation in Bears

Since their playoff hopes died on the heels of their two-game losing streak, it might seem that the Vikings have nothing left to play for, but their coach and some players disagree.

Mike Tice has reiterated at each of his press conferences this week what the win-loss record means to the team. If Minnesota wins Sunday, it would tie Chicago for a 5-1 division record and finish the season with a 7-2 record in the final nine games, completing the season with a 9-7 record.

"It's tough to sit there with the reality of it that we're out of the playoffs," Tice said. "For our football program, finishing 7-2 and 9-7 with a winning record is important."

Players are buying into that as well.

"Guys are, of course, down," safety Darren Sharper said when asked what the feeling was like as the playoff chances started to dry up before the Vikings' Sunday night kickoff last week. "But we still had a chance to have some playoff hopes if we win the game. It's tough, but guys are just looking forward to ending the season off on a good note."

It's helpful for the players anyway to be facing a division rival like the Bears, a team that has secured the second seed in the NFC playoffs and could be battling the Vikings for the NFC North title for years to come.

"Playing Chicago will always help you out and get you motivated because you are playing the divisional champions, playing a team that beat you soundly the previous game," Sharper said.

The Vikings might also be playing for Mike Tice's job.

"I pretty much think all season long we've been doing that," Sharper said. "Whether it's for Coach Tice's job or not, we think Coach Tice is definitely going to have a shot at coming back. We're hoping that he does."

For some, like 2004 undrafted free agent offensive lineman Anthony Herrera, the coaching staff that took a chance on him has become dear to him. But Herrera believes the decision on whether or not to keep Tice has already been made.

"I don't think this game will make or break Coach Tice's future. I think that decision is probably already made. Based on the season and based on the games, I think that's where the decision comes from, not just by us winning or losing a game," Herrera said. "Coach Tice is a great coach. He's a motivator. I don't really have anything bad to say about him. Everything is positive. He gave me my shot. I love them (Tice and offensive line coach Steve Loney) – they're great coaches for me. They're different coaches, very different, but they still get it done and I think they complement each other."

Finally, some of the players are also playing for their own jobs. The Vikings have at least 16 players scheduled for some form of free agency after the season, and even beyond that teams are constantly changing in the NFL from year to year and week to week as new talent, new philosophies and new injuries change the makeup of the offseason and in-season roster.

"Say there is a change (in coaching) and the guy comes in, a (player) that's my guy might not be his guy. That's reality," Tice said. "I mentioned (Wednesday) that the team in this room will not be 100 percent the same at the end of the season. When we start in minicamp, there will be some different coaches probably and there will be some different players. It's very important that we finish the thing right because you're being evaluated. I've never been on a team where you come back the next year and it's the same team. When talent is evaluated, it's normally evaluated by a couple of things – consistency and play-making ability. … I don't believe with this ownership group it's going to be evaluated on dollar signs."

No one but owner Zygi Wilf, who hasn't been talking with the media this week, knows if Sunday's game means anything for the future of Tice, his coaching staff or any of the players, but for Tice this game still holds meaning.

"I disagree that it's a meaningless game. It is a big game. Just being able to say we had a winning season or being able to say we didn't have a losing season, just listen to how that sounds – one sounds positive and one sound negative," he said. "If you're 8-8, you say we didn't have a losing season. If we're 9-7, you say we had a winning season."


Despite all the back-and-forth comments between Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams last month, his agent the past week and Bears center Olin Kreutz this week, Kreutz was talking about more than just Williams.

Kreutz seemed confident in the Chicago offense's ability this season despite being known as a team that relies on its top-ranked defense, but he wasn't sure how long the starter would be playing Sunday.

"I don't know how much more we have to accomplish, but of course you want to keep some momentum going, move the ball a little bit," Kreutz said. "But we're not going to show them anything so it's going to be kind of a preseason game plan so I don't know how much we're really going to accomplish."

Kreutz did admit to having extra motivation playing against Williams, but not only because of Williams calling the Pro Bowl center a joke last month.

"He had a great game against me last time, and because of the things he said about me I want to go out there and play against him," the center said.

Kreutz said he doesn't do his talking on the field, but that Williams was talking plenty, mostly to former teammate Ruben Brown, who earlier this week said he was surprised by Williams' comments about Kreutz. But despite Kreutz's claim that he's not a trash talker, he did jab at Williams a little bit on Wednesday, presumably before he heard about the passing of Williams' father Tuesday night.

"I must have made him mad. I stole his cheeseburger or something," Kreutz said. "I was surprised (by Williams' initial comments). I kind of laughed. I mean, I enjoy when people hate me. That makes me happy, so he's made my whole week."

Williams is expected to rejoin the Vikings before Sunday's game, but with Kreutz struggling with an injury it's uncertain if he will even play.

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