Season On the Line?

The Vikings face a season at the crossroads when they meet the Lions today at Ford Field. After a week of turmoil, there are questions whether today's game will bring healing to the problems of the last month and a half or force the team into making the change at quarterback more and more fans (and even some players) have been looking for.

At the conclusion of last week's loss to the Bears, Brad Johnson was on the sideline and Tarvaris Jackson had seen the first action of his professional career.

For Johnson, it was the second time in two months that he had been pulled because of ineffectiveness and at least the second time that head coach Brad Childress was pressured to answer questions about the standing of his quarterback position. The first time around, there wasn't much Childress needed to say. Jackson was sidelined with an injury and Johnson's replacement, Brooks Bollinger, had been sacked on each of the first three times he dropped to throw a pass. Replacing Johnson didn't seem like a viable option then.

The second time around, it has been seen as a different story. While technically only one game out of the wild card hunt, the Vikings will likely have to win all four of their remaining games – or at least the three games vs. NFC teams still on the slate – to have any chance of making the playoffs. Several other teams have switched to young quarterbacks taken in the 2006 draft, like Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler and even sixth-rounder Bruce Gradkowski. The results have been mixed, but each of those teams have shown the faith in their young quarterbacks by making the move.

Childress didn't do that this week. Unless everyone on the team was in on it, Johnson will be the starter in today's game. But by not addressing the matter, instead believing he needed to cloak the information so as not to give a competitive advantage to the 2-10 Lions, Childress may have left the door open for a division within the team. If a coach loses confidence in his quarterback, the only realistic alternative is to go to the backup. While Childress hasn't publicly shown a lack of backing in Johnson, his refusal to discuss the matter – even when he admitted that he had made his decision on Wednesday and that the starter had been informed – has opened the potential for a division within the team.

For Johnson, who is the 40th highest paid quarterback in the league, if he is benched for a third time, it will likely be the last time for the season. If the Vikings win against the Lions – keep in mind that Mike Tice had a perfect record against the team with the worst record in the NFL during this decade – much of the argument will self-correct and go away…for at least one week. But if the Vikings lose or win despite a poor performance from Johnson, Childress could be in danger of losing his locker room to a split opinion on those in the Johnson and Jackson camps. If that happens, the season will end long before the Dec. 31 regular-season finale.

* The Vikings remain entrenched as the No. 1 rush defense in the league, allowing just 58.8 yards a game. That total is 17 yards a game better than the No. 2 defense (Baltimore) and is still on pace to break the 16-game NFL record set by the Ravens in 2000.
* With five tackles today, E.J. Henderson will have 100 for the season.
* Over the last eight games, Chester Taylor has rushed 180 times for 800 yards and four touchdowns.
* In the same-eight game span, Troy Williamson has caught nine passes for 112 yards and no touchdowns.
* Travis Taylor has emerged as one of the Vikings' go-to receivers. After catching 26 passes in his the first eight games of the season, Taylor has caught 18 passes in the last four.
* The Vikings remain barely above a one-of-three third-down conversion ratio, having made good on just 60 of 179 chances. On the good news front, the Vikings defense has been even better at stopping opponents offenses on third down, allowing just 31.9 percent of third downs (51 of 160) to be converted into first downs.
* No team in the league has attempted more fourth-down conversions that the Vikings (18). In contrast, the Colts have gone for it on fourth down only one time this season.
* The Vikings have one of the better time-of-possession averages (32:46 per game) in the league, while Detroit is among the worst (27:53).
* While Mike Martz has publicly supported Kitna, as the Lions' season has gone into the tank, so have Kitna's numbers. In the first four games of the season, Kitna had four touchdowns and three interceptions with a passer rating of 87.1. Over the next four games, he threw six touchdowns and seven interceptions and his passer rating dropped to 82.5. In his last four games, he has thrown three touchdowns with six picks and his passer rating has dropped to 78.3.
* Kitna has thrown every pass for the Lions this season, despite a poor performance in several games in which he could have been pulled by the coaching staff.
* Despite not being with the team for more than a month, wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim is still tied for fourth place in receptions with 17.
* Today's game is only going to be broadcast in the Detroit and Twin Cities markets this week – reaching approximately 7 percent of the country.
* No team has run the ball fewer times this year than Detroit (231) – almost 10 carries fewer a game than the Vikings' average.

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