Notebook: Accountable on the Field

The Vikings have preached a "culture of accountability" for players off the field, but after the defense's poor showing on Monday night, coordinator Mike Tomlin is preaching that on the field as well. Plus, get other notes and quotes from the players and coaches as they try to move beyond the MNF embarrassment.

The Vikings received their first blowout loss of the season on football's biggest stage – the bright lights and additional cameras of ESPN's "Monday Night Football." While it came at the hands (and arm) of the Patriots, one of the NFL's best teams this season, the manner in which New England handed it to the Vikings surprised some and upset others.

Despite having two strong running backs in Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon, the Patriots opted not to seriously test Minnesota's run defense and went into the game with a pass-first approach. It worked seemingly perfectly, as quarterback Tom Brady had 372 yards through the air.

But the passing mentality continued deep into the fourth quarter, when the Patriots had a 24-7 lead. To some observers, it seemed the Patriots might be rubbing it in. To Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, that had nothing to do with it.

"They are not responsible for keeping the score down, we are. It's the NFL, man. We're competitive. We worry very little about what they do and why they do it," Tomlin said. "Now we have to defend it, but we don't call plays for the New England Patriots. They call plays for themselves. Like any opponent, we don't care what they do. We have to defend every blade of grass. We've got to play one snap at a time regardless of whether they come out in a spread offense or a wishbone."

In other words, the "culture of accountability" that head coach Brad Childress tries to instill in players' lives applies on the field as well as off the field, and Tomlin thinks the Patriots were simply ensuring themselves of a win by doing what was working.

"We've had some impressive fourth-quarter comebacks and things of that nature. The reality is that they stuck to their game plan because there was a lot of time on the clock, and rightfully so. We're down – what? – 17 I guess against Detroit in the fourth quarter and we come back and win in a flurry. They did what was smart and stuck to their game plan. Hats off to them."

While fans might stew over the pounding until the next Sunday, the coaches and players have to move on to preparation for the next game, and that's what most of them were doing this week.

By Wednesday, the first media access since Monday's night loss, fullback Tony Richardson refused to answer any questions specific to the Patriots game. Others were willing to offer a little analysis about New England's spread offense that found generally smooth sailing through the calm Vikings waters.

"That's just a case of them coming in with a great game plan and out-executing and out-playing us. It's definitely something that we knew they've shown in the past and had the ability to do. Hat's off to them, they just played lights-out football," said defensive tackle Ross Kolodziej.

"We were ready for the no-huddle, the adjustments, the spread – everything. The thing that hurt us is that we just didn't execute to their level."

When the game was out of hand and Brad Johnson had thrown three interceptions (and head coach Brad Childress "couldn't stands no more"), the Vikings inserted backup Brooks Bollinger in Johnson's place. But, despite his days of facing the Patriots when he was a member of the New York Jets, Bollinger couldn't find the answer either.

"They're always changing and they're always evolving. They evolve as well as anyone, and that's something that makes them really good," Bollinger said. "I think those players really fit the scheme. Those players are brought in to fit what they do. Those guys up front are built and they're put in those situations for a reason."

The Patriots' incredible success against a Vikings defense that had previously been stout has begged the question all week long: Can other teams replicate New England's success against Minnesota?

Bollinger said that at least the look of their next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, is similar on the defensive front.

"San Francisco has done some 3-4 stuff this year and they've done some 4-3 stuff. They do some different stuff and they've shown a lot of different stuff on tape," Bollinger said. "I think they've had a good plan and they've shown the ability to give you multiple schemes on multiple levels."

The talent and success of the 49ers isn't nearly the same as that of the Patriots. While New England is 7-1, the 49ers are 2-5 with a 34-27 loss to Arizona, a 38-24 loss to Philadelphia, a 41-0 loss at Kansas City, a 48-19 loss to San Diego and a 41-10 loss to Chicago.

Even so, the Vikings know they can't afford to look down at an opponent.

"That whole ‘where everybody is statistically' means nothing. You see it week in and week out on this level and all you can do is go out there and play and know every Sunday you're going to get in a dogfight," tight end Jermaine Wiggins said. "If you don't execute and you don't play well, you can get beat by any team."

Said Tomlin: "Of course we feel bad about the performance on Monday night, but that is in our rearview mirror. Our windshield is much bigger and we've got to keep looking forward, and that's what we're doing," he said. "In terms of spread offenses, it's the National Football League and it's a copycat league. People are going to copycat what they see people have success with, and you have to make things disappear. You have to make problems disappear. They are not going to disappear by themselves.

A LITTLE MORE

After a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown against New England, Mewelde Moore is now averaging 12.4 yards per return, which bests his previous career high from last year – 11.7.

Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said Moore did a good job of setting up the blocks on his touchdown return.

"It was a sideline return to his right as he was returning the ball. He set up the middle, which got them biting a little bit that way, which helped our blocks to the sidelines. It was planned to go to the right and that's where it went, but he did a good job of setting it up," said Ferraro, who credited Richard Owens with one of the key blocks.

Moore is now second in the NFC for average, behind Bears return man Devin Hester, who has a 14.6-yard average and an NFL-leading two touchdowns.

Moore said he has been close to breaking other returns open.

"We've been close in a lot of situations and we've been watching film, trying to find ways to make it work. … It's a good thing when everybody continuously believes collectively. We just believe eventually something is going to pop free for us and last week it did," said Moore, who also has a 40-yard return to his credit this year.

ROAD TESTED

It used to be the Vikings going on the road most likely meant a loss. But that isn't the case anymore.
"Coach Childress has always talked about taking the same attitude you have at home and carrying that on the road. It's just mental (focus). … Obviously one way to eliminate crowd noise on the road is to run the football and we've done that effectively when we've won on the road," said fullback Tony Richardson.

The Vikings have won four of their last six outdoor games. Before that, they had lost 23 of their last 25 outdoor games, but getting a win at Monster Park in San Francisco may be even more important for the team's psyche.
"Every guy is making a point that just because we had a bad game last week, we're not going to come out and lay down the next week," defensive lineman Darrion Scott said. "I think that's really important coming off a loss like that for us to bounce back, and I think everyone in this locker room knows that."


Viking Update Top Stories