Vikings Riding Flat-Line Approach

The days of the emotional roller-coaster of a team could be behind the Vikings if their win in Washington under trying circumstances was any indication. That could serve them well during a tough stretch of games to start the season.

The Vikings' first three games looked to be a very tough test for new coach Brad Childress and his team. All three of Minnesota's opponents — the Redskins, Panthers and Bears — qualified for the playoffs last season and few gave the Vikings a chance to get off to a good start with a Monday night opener in Washington.

Well, surprise, surprise.

The Vikings edged the Redskins, 19-16, on Ryan Longwell's field goal late in the fourth quarter. Now, Sunday's home opener against Carolina appears as if it might be a winnable game as well.

The Panthers are coming off a 20-6 home loss to Atlanta and coach John Fox's team is battling injuries. Most notably, receiver Steve Smith missed the first game because of a hamstring problem. Smith torched cornerback Fred Smoot last season, tying a franchise mark with 11 receptions for a team record 201 yards in a 38-13 victory in Carolina.

That doesn't figure to happen again with Childress and quarterback Brad Johnson leading the way. The Vikings proved against Washington that they are no longer riding the emotional roller-coaster they did under former coach Mike Tice.

That roller-coaster was productive when the Vikings were on one of their annual winning streaks — such as last year's six-game run after a 2-5 start — but going through so many ups-and-downs eventually proved fatal.

Childress' no-nonsense, flat-line approach was on display against the Redskins. The Vikings led 6-3 after the opening quarter but Washington scored the next 10 points to take a seven-point lead. The Vikings also began to become undisciplined, taking five penalties in the second quarter.

In years past, this might have signified the start of a meltdown. But in this case, Childress was able to keep his team composed. Longwell kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter and when the Vikings came out of the locker room they had regrouped.

Johnson, who turned 38 Wednesday, deserves much of the credit. Daunte Culpepper had Pro Bowl skills but at times he became flustered or over excited and made a key mistake.

Johnson is just the opposite. He seems completely at ease running Childress' version of the West Coast offense and is nearly unflappable. That doesn't mean he never gets excited but he knows how to harness it so that his excitement doesn't have an adverse effect on teammates.

It's exactly the type of quarterback Childress wants running the show.

Childress' offense also is likely to feature the ground attack against the Panthers. Chester Taylor carried 31 times against the Redskins and although he gained only 2.8 yards a pop, the Vikings aren't about to abandon the run.

Not with a left side of an offensive line that features the high-priced Bryant McKinnie at tackle Steve Hutchison at guard.

The Vikings' commitment to the run figures to be especially strong considering Carolina gave up 252 rushing yards to Atlanta in its opener. Last season, the Panthers had the No. 3 defense in the league. Warrick Dunn gained 132 of those yards on 29 carries.

NOTES

  • Former Vikings running back Robert Smith ran for more than 100 yards in each of his three games against the Panthers. That included a 120-yard performance during a 21-14 victory in 1997.

  • In that 1997 meeting, Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson threw a touchdown pass to himself.

  • Johnson had a big day against the Panthers while playing for Washington in October 1999, completing 20 of 33 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns.

  • The Vikings won the first three games played between the teams (1996, 1997 and 2000). Their losing streak started when Carolina beat Minnesota 24-13 in the 2001 season opener.

  • Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins was with Carolina in 2002-2003 and played in Super Bowl XXXVIII for the Panthers.

  • Facing pressure in the third quarter of the Vikings' season-opening victory at Washington, Brad Johnson switched the ball from his throwing hand to his left hand and attempted to throw a pass to tight end Jermaine Wiggins. It fell incomplete. Afterward, Johnson said he spends time working on throwing left-handed. "I was 3-for-4 coming into this game," Johnson said. "I work on my left-handed throw quite a bit honestly. I was hoping we could complete it. You can't make a living by that but I do work on it."

  • Johnson, who spent the 1999 and 2000 seasons with Washington, has no love for an organization that jettisoned him. Johnson let his feelings be known after the Vikings' victory on Monday, putting on his old Redskins jersey and walking to the team bus. He had even considered wearing the jersey to his post-game news conference but decided against it.

    BY THE NUMBERS: The Vikings have not been shut out in 237 games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to have guys that are around you that build you up. That's what some of the receivers did and my coach did. To keep me up and keep me going. Things like that are going to happen. You just have to keep on running with it and make the next play." — WR Troy Williamson on how he kept his confidence during a season-opening victory at Washington in which he dropped three passes but also made four catches for 77 yards.


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