The clichéd phrases of "backs against the wall" and "must-win games" haven't been thrown out too often in the Vikings' locker room yet this year, but players know their playoff hopes will be slipping away quicker than a dropped pass if they don't turn their fortunes around soon – as in, Sunday.
With a 4-5 record and eight teams in the NFC with winning records, the Vikings would be left out in the cold if the playoffs started now. Fortunately for them, they have seven weeks to show that they belong – but they most likely will have to earn wins in at least six of those seven weeks for them to continue playing in January.
Wide receiver Travis Taylor is an optimist.
"The season's not over. We've got seven games. We're still in it. A lot of teams lost (last weekend)," he said. "There are seven games and 10 (wins) may get you in the playoffs, but I don't know. This is a tough division. We've got to have the mindset of winning every game."
While winning six or seven games in a row would seem like a monumental task for a team that is 4-5, the Vikings don't need to look any further back than last season, when they won seven of nine after starting the season 2-5.
"We ran off seven straight last year and we've got the same guys we had then, so it's not like we can't do it. We've just got to buckle down and believe in each other," Taylor said. "It's hard to put together seven straight wins. When we did it last year, I've been thinking about that since Week 1. We have to get on a roll and get some good momentum going and win some football games."
The Vikings haven't been doing much of that lately. They have dropped their last three games, and two of those losses have come at the hands of what most would consider inferior competition.
After being blown out by the New England Patriots, 31-7, the Vikings lost to the San Francisco 49ers 9-3 and the Green Bay Packers 23-17.
The last two losses certainly shook the confidence of fans, but the players say they still believe in themselves.
"It's tough. I think guys are still confident. We've all been in this game a long time. We just need to get back on details, work hard, try to execute and get a win streak going," said cornerback Antoine Winfield.
Taylor was asked if there is still a carryover effect from the blowout loss to the Patriots, who exposed the Vikings' pass defense.
"That was two weeks ago. That's in the past, that game is over with and you move on," he said.
But November was supposed to be the Vikings' month to move on and move up in the playoff chase.
Instead, the team has regressed. They scored only three points against San Francisco in their first game in November, and they allowed 347 yards passing to the Green Bay Packers in their second loss this month.
The offense has been a consistent point of frustration, but while some contend that head coach Brad Childress' version of the West Coast offense takes time to learn, others say it's too late in the season to blame the struggles on a learning curve.
"It's getting late in the season to be talking about scheme, what you can do and what you can't do. It's going on Week 11, so we've got to make some things start happening. The season's getting short," Taylor said. "If you win in November and December, you play in January. We're 0-2 in November and we've got to pick it up."
"It needs to happen now. We have seven games left. We're 4-5. If the playoffs started today, we wouldn't be in. We just need to get back to work and hopefully get something going," he said.
But then Winfield was asked if the Vikings are a playoff team.
"I'm not sure. Usually playoff teams do step up around the months of November and December," he said. "They usually get something going then. Right now, we're just kind of average."
OFFENSE COMING AROUND?
After scoring 10 points in their previous two games combined, the Vikings offense scored 17 against Green Bay. It had been targeted by some as being too conservative in the past, but Taylor said they tried to open it up against Green Bay.
"Brad took some shots and guys took some plays. That's all you can ask for," Taylor said. "I think we just needed to force the issue downfield a little bit. Bethel and Troy and Billy, those guys can run and we've got to take advantage of that."
WILF NOT CONCERNED
If Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is concerned about the state of the team, he wasn't letting it be known publicly on Monday.
"Certainly I can say it's disappointing to lose the last few games. We're on the right track of getting the players and the team working together in a way that would be fruitful in the future to be a consistent winner," Wilf said. "It will take time for everyone to work together. I'm very optimistic for the future and we're certainly on the right direction."
Wilf wasn't one of those ready to criticize Childress.
"I'm not going to comment," he said when asked what he thought of the job Childress is doing. "I'm not the professional dealing with the strategies of teams, but I'm very satisfied with what he's done with the team and where we are right now in the process."
Notebook: Players Assess Playoff Hopes
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