Winning Ways Seem Long Ago

Were the Vikings' winning ways from early in the season just a false sense of hope or has this team regressed? Whatever the case, Brad Childress' team badly needs a win.

Maybe the Vikings' surprise victory on opening night at Washington gave everyone a false sense of this team's talent level. Or perhaps it was the 2-0 start that raised expectations but was really the result of a gift giveaway by Carolina's Chris Gamble on a punt return in the fourth quarter.

Of course, there also was the 31-13 upset win in late October at Seattle that put the Vikings at 4-2 and made them appear to be a contender.

Whatever the case, there clearly was a point this season where it looked as if Brad Childress might be able to get Minnesota into the playoffs in his first year as head coach.

That point now seems like years ago.

The Vikings will enter Sunday's game against Arizona with a four-game losing streak and simply hoping to get to within one-game of .500. Even a terrible Cardinals team should strike some fear in the Vikings.

A four-game stretch that started in early November and appeared to be a perfect opportunity for a lengthy winning streak instead has resulted in losses to San Francisco (9-3), Green Bay (23-17) and most recently Miami (24-20).

The offense has generated little, Childress' play-calling has been suspect at best and opponents have learned they can have success against the Vikings' defense by spreading the field and passing the ball. Minnesota's run defense has remained dominant — No. 1 in the NFL — but that simply means that smart teams are abandoning the run sooner rather than later.

This collective meltdown has resulted in a locker room that has attempted to remain united but has shown some obvious signs of wear and tear. For the most part, the defense continues to perform at a much higher level than the offense and it is clear players from that side of the ball are growing tired of being asked to not only stop the other team but also score points.

It's hard to fault them.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who talked about his frustration after the loss at San Francisco, offered a no comment on the subject following the latest setback. It was Winfield who intercepted a Joey Harrington pass in the third quarter, returned the ball to the Dolphins' 3-yard line and then saw the Vikings offense end up kicking a field goal.

That came before the offense committed three fourth-quarter turnovers, two of which the Dolphins defense returned for touchdowns.

"It is frustrating," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "I can't speak on what's going on (on offense). I'm on defense. They need to make adjustments and make the changes they need to. We just need to keep playing a great defensive game plan and do what we can. Maybe we can score some points."

The Vikings playoff hopes might be out the window, but this team desperately needs a victory Sunday or this thing could turn ugly. Especially when one considers that the Vikings next will travel to Chicago to play the NFL's top defense.

A loss to Arizona officially would signal a free fall that might not end until the final gun sounds on the Dec. 31 season finale against St. Louis.

NOTES

Coach Brad Childress had said he was "mulling" changes on the offensive line in the days leading up to Vikings' loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday.

Childress might be forced to do more than simply mull this week. Both right guard Artis Hicks and right tackle Marcus Johnson suffered sprained left ankles against the Dolphins and had to leave the game.

Hicks was replaced by Jason Whittle and Mike Rosenthal took Johnson's place. Hicks had a noticeable limp in the locker room Wednesday and did not practice. Whittle took his place. Johnson missed only part of practice.

  • CB Cedric Griffin suffered a neck stinger in the first half Sunday and had to leave the game in the second half. Listed as questionable on the injury report; he missed at least part of practice Wednesday. Griffin has been serving as the Vikings' nickel back.

  • RG Artis Hicks sat out practice Wednesday after suffering what coach Brad Childress called a "lateral" sprain of his left ankle in the second quarter Sunday. He is listed as questionable on the injury report. Jason Whittle will replace him if Hicks can't go.

  • RT Marcus Johnson sat out a part of practice Wednesday because of a left ankle sprain and is listed as questionable on the injury report. Mike Rosenthal is the backup to Johnson.

  • WR Marcus Robinson played Sunday after missing three games because of a lower-back injury; he sat out a portion of practice Wednesday but is listed as probable on the injury report.

  • MLB Napoleon Harris continues to wear a cast on his dislocated left wrist but took part in at least a portion of practice Wednesday. He is listed as probable for Sunday.

  • RB Chester Taylor missed part of practice Wednesday because of a neck problem but is listed as probable.

  • NT Pat Williams missed part of practice Wednesday because of a continued problem with an aggravation in his knee but is listed as probable.

  • LB Dontarrious Thomas missed part of practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury but is listed as probable.

  • CB Antoine Winfield missed part of practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion Sunday but is listed as probable.

  • DE Jayme Mitchell missed part of practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury but is listed as probable.

  • FB Naufahu Tahi was signed off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad to take the place of Tony Richardson (broken arm), who was placed on injured reserve.

  • G Jimmy Martin was re-signed to the practice squad; the Vikings released TE Richard Angulo from the practice squad.

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