A November To Remember?

Brad Johnson has felt some heat this week about the Vikings' performance Monday, but, all things considered in the schedule the team has faced and what is coming, fans should be pleased with the current status of the Vikings -- as well as their post-season chances.

Twice this season, Vikings fans have been mad. After the loss to the Bears and after the loss to the Patriots Monday. In both cases, the frustration was justified. Against the Bears, the Vikings had them beat – let's not forget that Lovie Smith called a time out two plays before the fumble that allowed Chicago to slide out of town with a win. For those who have erased that memory, be reminded that, if the Vikings run the next two plays, the Bears are out of timeouts, likely needing 85 to 90 yards to score and only the two-minute warning to stop the clock.

That game the Vikings should have won. The Patriot game is another story. The Vikings were so out-schemed that, even in defeat, defensive players gave due credit to Tom Brady and his posse of No. 3 receivers. So you have the top-rated run defense? O.K. We won't run. When was the last time you saw a team a 3:1 pass-to-run ratio and win by 24 points? Probably never.

But, even after being humbled in front of the rest of the league on Monday, the Vikings sit with a 4-3 record. If someone had said at the beginning of the season that the Vikes would be at 4-3 after seven games, most fans would have said that would be fantastic. Look at what they have been up against. A road game vs. the Redskins and 90,000 fans to start things off and games against fellow 2005 playoff teams in the Panthers, Bears, Seahawks and Patriots. A case could have easily been made that the Vikings would or should be 2-5 at this stage.

But they're not. They're 4-3 and their next four opponents have a combined record of 7-22. While New England made clear that the Vikings aren't yet ready to ascend to the upper tier of the NFL just yet, with the slate of opponents lined up for November, there is every reason to believe that when the Vikings have their rematch with the Bears Dec. 3, they could very well be 8-3 and once again having media types jumping back on their bandwagon.

If the Vikings simply do what playoff teams and championship contenders do – beat the teams you are supposed to beat – the team will have entered November with three losses and ended it with three losses.

What they do from there is what will determine whether this is a growth year or something special.

* Fans with tickets for the Vikings-Bears game may have to be prepared to change their time schedules. A look at the slate of games for Week 13 with the "new-look" flex-scheduling to make NBC feel special, the league has the option of moving a game scheduled for Sunday afternoon to Sunday night. The first instance of that will happen next week, when the Bears-Giants game is moved to Sunday night. When Week 13 hits, a pair of potential marquee matchups are already off the board – the Bengals and Ravens on Thursday and the Panthers-Eagles on Monday. The rest of the games are pedestrian at best, with most of the powerhouse teams playing slugs. Only three games could potentially draw national interest – the Cowboys at the Giants, the Vikings and Bears, and the Seahawks at Denver. You can bet FOX won't allow a second Giants game to be taken off their roster and the Seahawks and Broncos doesn't look nearly as sexy to league execs with Seattle potentially in the tank unless they make big changes. A Vikings-Bears matchup makes the most sense, because of the potential records and the audience that will want to climb on the Bears bandwagon. The league doesn't have to announce their switches until the Monday prior to the game, but the Vikings and Bears should get ready to move the start time of their game.
* Napoleon Harris has been ruled out for Sunday's game and, depending on who you talk to, he may miss as much as a month. Team sources are saying he's targeting a return for the Packers next week, but VU is hearing his down time could be anywhere from two to four weeks.
* Marcus Robinson has also been ruled out for Sunday's game.
* The Vikings will announce today that they have cut safety Rashad Baker.
* Matt Birk and Pat Williams were both upgraded to probable Friday. Both are expected to start. Kevin Williams remains listed as questionable and will be a game-time decision. If he doesn't start, he is expected to be de-activated and shut down completely.
* For the "For Relatives Only" Monday night game between the Seahawks and Raiders, there could be a Vikings connection other than Randy Moss and Nate Burleson. After all, a night after seeing Tom Brady duel with Peyton Manning, who won't be on the edge of their seats to see the much-hyped stare-down between Seneca Wallace and Andrew Walter? But, the bigger intrigue could come from the Raiders running back situation. It looks as though both Justin Fargas and Zack Crockett will miss the game and LaMont Jordan is coming off an injury. If Jordan can't go for 60 minutes, former Viking RaShard Lee will get the call. That's reason enough to make Monday's game must-see TV.

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