The Vikings have a 2-1 record, which might have been acceptable to many fans with all the changes in coaches, schemes and personnel, and considering the injuries and early-season schedule. But to many of the players, a 2-1 record entering their game against the Buffalo Bills today has a bitter taste.
"It's not so much that we're at the crossroads. It's more that we all feel bad because we gave that game away (against Chicago). We should be sitting here at 3-0, but that's the way the cookie crumbles," guard Artis Hicks said.
A fumble with less than five minutes to play and a four-point lead against the Chicago Bears led directly to the Bears' game-winning touchdown and a three-point loss for the Vikings.
That also led to Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye saying that Chicago had the division by the horns, controlling its own fate. While that might be true, it isn't exactly December with a few games to play.
"It's really early. It's only three games. They have a lot of games and so do we, and we play them again," tackle Bryant McKinnie said in response to Ogunleye's statement.
But that doesn't mean the Vikings are satisfied with their record or the fact that some fans aren't that upset with their September getaway.
"I think people on the outside might have said that and thought that (being 2-1 would be OK), but here on the inside we knew what we had here all along," Hicks said. "Dating back to when I first walked into this locker room, I could tell that this was a special team. ... On the outside, the fans or media, they might have thought that, but here we knew that we could beat all these teams. We came out a little short, but, hey, on to Buffalo."
Each of the Vikings' three games have been decided by three points, and running back Chester Taylor believes that might say something about the Vikings sticking together as a team.
"I just attribute it to never giving up," Taylor said. "We win as a team and play as a team, we fight as a team and lose as a team and we're going to win as a team. When it comes to clutch time, we know we have to depend on each other to get a win."
Hicks and McKinnie both believe the Vikings offensive line is starting to jell.
"We're starting to. Each game I think we should take something from it - what we can do and can't do," McKinnie said. "On offense, you need all 11 people to be on the same page. On defense, everybody can get beat and one person can make a good play and it's a good job for the defense. That's the difference."
Hicks said part of the Vikings not yet being a dominant run team is because of the quality of competition they have faced so far - the Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears.
"We haven't played any slap-arounds on defense now. ... We're not playing any push-arounds out there," Hicks said. "With defenses like those, you might not pop the big one in the first half, first quarter or second quarter, but you've got to keep grinding them and wearing them down. Come fourth quarter when the game's on the line, you start wearing them down and they start missing tackles and you start knocking them off the ball a little easier.
"I think for the most part we've seen that. Even this last week, before we turned the ball over there, Chester was breaking a couple and busting a couple. The two weeks before that, he was getting a lot of his yardage in the fourth quarter. With good defenses, you've got to be able to wear them down and grind on them. Those 2- or 3-yard gains early in the game will start turning into 8- or 9-yard gains."
HELP ON BOTH SIDES
Jason Whittle, acquired as a free agent in the off-season, has turned out to be a valuable and versatile offensive lineman. In last Sunday's game against Chicago, guards Hicks and Steve Hutchinson each left the game at different times in the second half with injuries.
In stepped Whittle, who is listed as a backup center but has also played guard in the past.
"You love to have a guy that's versatile like that. When he got in, he did a nice job," said Hicks.
Besides being a backup center who can also play guard, Whittle played both left and right guard in the same game.
"That's pretty difficult, but that speaks volumes about what kind of athlete he is. That's a lot to deal with, but he's a seasoned vet," said Hicks, who played left guard last year but is still getting comfortable at right guard. "He's been through a lot and seen a lot. All that experience is great for him."
In the last week, the New Orleans Saints promoted former Vikings off-season QB Jason Fife to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and signed Vikings 2006 off-season linebacker Kyle McKenzie (Minnesota Gophers) to their practice squad.
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