Scoring Still Haunts Vikings

The Vikings have spent the early portion of this week trying to figure out how to put more points on the board and answers questions to that affect. Plus, get loads of personnel and series notes on Packer week.

A day after the Vikings' surprising 9-3 loss at San Francisco, coach Brad Childress made it clear that his 4-4 team was very much alive and in the thick of the postseason hunt.

But if the Vikings can't get their offensive problems turned around in quick fashion that might not be the case much longer.

Minnesota has not scored an offensive touchdown in losing its past two games, and an upcoming three-game stretch against Green Bay, Miami and Arizona likely will tell the story of whether the 2006 Vikings are a legitimate postseason contender or a team that is in the midst of trying to reach that level.

The next three also will go a long way toward determining the mood in a locker room that appears to be showing its first cracks since Childress took charge.

An indication of the mood shift came Monday when cornerback Antoine Winfield expressed frustration with the offense's inability to score points. Keep in mind, the Vikings defense has played very well for most of the season and has accounted for four of the team's 13 touchdowns. The offense, meanwhile, has gone on streaks of 12 and nine consecutive quarters without reaching the end zone.

"You have to score touchdowns in this league," Winfield said. "Field goals? (You're) not going to win too many games doing that. After eight weeks you would like to see improvement. I don't know what it is. I don't know, whether it's the play calling, I don't know."

Obviously, Winfield is aware that Childress is the one calling the plays for a West Coast scheme that has done little to put fear into opponents. Quarterback Brad Johnson rarely, if ever, is being asked to take shots in the end zone or down field.

One of the things that has frustrated Winfield, and plenty of others who aren't willing to say it, is the fact the Vikings have had little problem moving the ball during their opening drives. In other words, the 15-play scripted portion of Childress' offense works just fine. And then it stalls.

The Vikings opened the season at Washington by driving down the field and scoring on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with running back Chester Taylor's 4-yard touchdown. In the subsequent seven games, the Vikings have ended their opening drives with Ryan Longwell field goals on six of them.

Childress knows he must get things on track but that's an easy thing to say and far harder to accomplish halfway through the season.

A certain segment of the fan base wants to see Johnson benched and rookie Tarvaris Jackson inserted as the starter. But Jackson is a year removed from playing at the I-AA level in college and a move to him would be an admission that the season is essentially finished.

So what then? Tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who has proven his ability to catches passes in his first two seasons with the Vikings, has been MIA in some games this season. Receiver Troy Williamson, expected to thrive in his second season, has struggled to simply hang onto the ball of late. An offensive line that added left guard Steve Hutchinson and got center Matt Birk back from injury has been good at times but far from great the rest of the time.

And the list goes on. It's understandable that members of the defense are tired of carrying the load. A game against the 3-5 Packers would seem to be the solution but so did the game against a 49ers team that until Sunday was giving up more than 30 points a game.

Childress must find a remedy quickly or his first season in Minnesota will turn into a lost one.

NOTES

  • CB Fred Smoot is spending the week in Mississippi after the death of his half-brother on Sunday in a car accident. The funeral is Saturday so there is a chance Smoot won't play against the Packers. Rookie corner Cedric Griffin would start in Smoot's place.

  • CB Charles Gordon was signed off the Vikings' practice squad to give the team added depth at the position.

  • WR Marcus Robinson missed a second consecutive game Sunday because of a lower-back problem and did not practice Wednesday. He is listed as questionable.

  • LB Napoleon Harris did not practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable because of a dislocated left wrist. Dontarrious Thomas replaced him against San Francisco last Sunday.

    DE Darrion Scott did not practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable because of a high left ankle sprain.

  • FB Tony Richardson missed at least a portion of practice Wednesday because of a fractured right thumb and is listed as questionable on the injury report. Richardson, who was wearing a cast on his hand, said he will be good to go Sunday.

  • RB Chester Taylor was very limited in practice Wednesday because of what coach Brad Childress described as, "overall body soreness." Taylor is listed as questionable because of what is listed a calf injury. He said he will play Sunday.

  • NT Pat Williams, who missed a portion of practice Wednesday because of knee pain and is listed as questionable, also spent last week on the injury report but played against San Francisco.

  • DT Kevin Williams played last Sunday despite a high left ankle sprain and is now listed as probable. He missed a portion of practice Wednesday.

  • C Matt Birk is listed as probable on the injury report because of a neck problem. Last week Birk was on the report because of a sore knee.

  • S Will Hunter missed a portion of practice Wednesday because of a lower-back injury but is listed as probable for Sunday.

  • DT Alex Guerrero, a rookie from Boise State, was signed to the practice squad to replace Gordon.

  • Dontarrious Thomas could start his second game at middle linebacker as Napoleon Harris continues to rehab his dislocated left wrist. Thomas played well last Sunday against San Francisco, tying for the team lead with eight tackles and also getting his first sack.

    Thomas has proven to be a reliable backup this season at all three linebacker spots, starting both in the middle and at strong-side in Week 4 at Buffalo. It was the first time Thomas played the strong side in his career. He considers himself a natural middle linebacker so this move is no problem.

  • The Vikings swept the season series between the teams in 2005, the first time they had accomplished the feat since 1998. Minnesota has now won three in a row against the Packers, including a 31-17 victory in an NFC wild card playoff game on Jan. 9, 2005. That marked the first postseason meeting between these franchises.

  • CB Antoine Winfield had one of his best days as a Viking in the playoff victory over Green Bay. He was named the NFL Defensive player of the Week after intercepting quarterback Brett Favre and posting 13 tackles.

  • One of the most famous games between the teams came in a Monday night meeting on Nov. 6, 2000, when Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman's miracle catch gave the Packers a 26-20 overtime victory over the Vikings. Freeman caught the ball after Vikings cornerback Cris Dishman juggled it twice. Freeman had slipped and fallen on his back and the ball hit his helmet before landing in his hands. Dishman thought the play was dead and Freeman got up and ran into the end zone.

  • The only tie between these teams came on Nov. 26, 1978, when they played to a 10-10 tie at Lambeau Field. The Vikings tied the score on a 5-yard touchdown pass by Fran Tarkenton to Ahmad Rashad with only six seconds left in regulation. Both teams missed field goals in overtime.

  • Vikings rookie receiver Randy Moss had his coming out party in a 37-24 victory over Green Bay on a Monday night game on Oct. 6, 1998. Moss caught five passes for 190 yards and had touchdown receptions of 52 and 44 yards. The Vikings' victory ended Green Bay's streak of 29 consecutive victories at Lambeau Field.

  • Vikings safety Darren Sharper spent his first eight seasons (1997-2004) with the Packers and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the team.

  • Kicker Ryan Longwell joined the Vikings as a free agent during the offseason after nine seasons in Green Bay. Longwell left the Packers as the franchise's all-time scoring leader with 1,054 points.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 4: The number of consecutive regular-season meetings between these two that have been decided by a field goal as time ran out. Ryan Longwell hit a pair of last-second kicks in 2004 to give the Packers a sweep of the regular-season series. Last season, Paul Edinger connected twice as the clocked showed 0:00 for the Vikings.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody, the so called experts, say rebuilding but I've always said anytime you've got Brett (Favre) he can score so fast that you're in every game and it's definitely a weapon to have on your side. We both have new staffs and both coming into the season with new schemes so I don't think it's shocking that we're so close." — Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell on if he is surprised that his former team, the Packers, are only a game behind Minnesota in the NFC North standings heading into Sunday's meeting at the Metrodome.

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