By Thursday of last week, it was pretty apparent that Brad Johnson would continue to be the starting quarterback, but the trick play came Sunday when Taylor was deactivated and running back Artose Pinner made the surprise start instead of Ciatrick Fason or Mewelde Moore.
Pinner said he wasn't aware that he would be starting until Saturday or Sunday, and said the week leading up to the Detroit game was an opportunity for him to regain the trust of the coaching staff.
"You just try to do everything perfect. We watch film after practice, so you want to do everything perfect so coaches are confident in you as things progress," Pinner said. Practice is so critical in situations like that, where if you mess up at practice, sometimes that's what causes you not to dress. It's that critical."
In his case it was. He had been a game-day deactive for the previous three games after getting two critical false-start penalties on special teams plays against Green Bay on Nov. 12. In fact, Pinner said his mistakes almost a month earlier against the Packers helped motivate him against his old Detroit team.
"This game, I was trying to take advantage of everything on the field. If the Green Bay game didn't happen, I don't think I would have done that well. I think I would have actually took things for granted. Now, since I had an opportunity again, I just tried to make the most of it," he said.
He did that, rushing for a career-high 125 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on a career-high 29 carries.
One player that wasn't a part of Pinner's performance was right guard Jason Whittle. Despite starting the last two games and performing well against the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, Whittle lost his starting spot when Artis Hicks returned from an ankle sprain to reclaim his previous spot.
Like Pinner, Whittle had no idea of what his role would be during the week leading up to the Lions game. Whittle's three false starts the previous week were likely a factor in Hicks getting his spot back.
"I'm sure that didn't help," Whittle said. "(The coaches) didn't say anything, (but) they don't ever say anything, which is fine. They didn't tell me the last two weeks before that that I was playing either."
Last week, Childress said he had informed his quarterbacks who would be starting at that position, but it appears all other players will have to wait and see before they know for sure if they will be playing or not.
In the season opener, safety Greg Blue didn't know he would be the surprise starter while Childress apparently enacted a disciplinary deactivation for veteran starter Dwight Smith.
Whittle said it doesn't really matter if players are told well in advance of the game if they'll be starting or not. In fact, as Childress' method of operation becomes second nature to the players, his philosophy could help backups stay sharp during the week of practice.
"You've just got to prepare each week like you're playing. If you don't, then you don't; and if you do, then you know you're ready," Whittle said. "I've been around long enough to know that that's the deal."
Whittle didn't seem particularly upset by the move to re-insert Hicks into the starting lineup, saying that the former Philadelphia Eagle was playing well before his ankle injury sidelined him.
Pinner's situation became a bit more precarious when he was singled out for being offsides in Saturday's walk-through practice, and considering the problems he had on special teams in Green Bay he started to wonder if that would affect his status against Detroit.
Following his mistake in Saturday's practice, he heard from his running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Childress, saying they "all chewed me out."
"The offsides in Green Bay was in the back of my mind (during practice)," Pinner said. "I wanted a good start, but I was kind of hesitant at the same time because (I was thinking) offside, offside."
No matter. While the plan, according to Childress, was for Pinner, Moore and Fason to share the carries, Pinner got off to a strong start and Childress stuck with him.
But Pinner's chance was nearly blown when his fumble in the second quarter led to a Detroit field goal.
"Just trying to do too much, just trying to reach for the extra yard, and that's what's been killing us the whole year—making little mistakes," Pinner said. "The game shouldn't have been that close. Interception, fumble by me. We had several more opportunities to score, which we didn't take advantage of."
But the Vikings still came away with a 30-20 win, and Pinner was one of the surprise heroes against his former teammates … even if he didn't know most of last week that he'd have that opportunity.
RED ZONE RECLAMATION
The Vikings had their best game of the season in the red zone, converting four of six trips inside the 20-yard line with touchdowns.
"Our whole thing was being more sound and matching the intensity of the defense. Eventually, we just finally started to jell and started to click more. What better time to click than now when you have to win three more games in a row?" said Pinner, who scored three of the Vikings' four touchdowns.
BACK TO TAYLOR?
Taylor said he wasn't sure he wouldn't be able to play until he gave it one more try on Sunday before the game. He had gone through walk-through practices on Friday and Saturday last week, but didn't take any contact.
"I could tolerate the pain I was dealing with at that time. It was just all about getting hit," he said.
He said he'd play Sunday against the New York Jets.
"I feel a lot better than I did last week at this time," he said. "I'm playing this week."
If Taylor is able to play without too much pain, he isn't likely to share many carries with the rest of the running backs, despite Pinner's success.
"If Chester's in there and can give a full accounting of himself, I don't think you consciously take those (carries) off of him," Childress said. "It's nice to be able to have confidence in a guy that you know will go in there and take a great look at it just as well. It's good to get that on tape so that people aren't playing it one way or the other when somebody enters the game."