Win or Work for 2003

The Vikings are in a strikingly similar situation that they faced last year -- win the third game or kiss the playoffs goodbye. Last year, they accomplished the feat and kept going. What about this year?

There's an expression that, for the purposes of a family website, goes something like this: excuses are like a specific body part -- everybody's got one and nobody wants to hear about it.

That's a good way to sum up the first two games of the Vikings 2002 season. The Vikes could be 2-0, in sole possession of first place and, over the span of the next three games, be facing Carolina and Detroit at home. The potential could have been there to put a strangle hold on first place in the NFC North or, if nothing else, set themselves up nicely for a playoff spot.

Instead, the Vikings are 0-2 after losing a pair of games when leading in the final minute. As today's game with 2-0 Carolina draws near, their can be no excuses. In the opening-day loss to Chicago, Daunte Culpepper took the blame for an interception in the final three minutes that allowed the Bears to score the winning touchdown. Last week, everyone in Minnesota put the blame on Doug Brien. Two losses. Two players blamed -- one blaming himself, one blamed by anyone with eyes.

Today there can be no blame assigned to an individual. If the Vikings go 0-3, their playoff hopes will dashed before the team even reaches October. It's that simple.

A win can get the Vikings on the right track. Chicago continues to be the David Copperfield on the NFL -- winning with smoke, mirrors and the ghost of Walter Payton working overtime. The Vikings are on the flip side of that coin. In the first two games, it has seemed the Vikings have found a way to lose instead of finding a way to win. Granted, Carolina is 2-0, but they are arguably the worst team in the NFC next to Detroit. While Vikings fans would accept a one-point win, a butt-kicking is what is in order.

Many of us who viewed the schedule when it was released immediately thought that the Vikings, with a couple of breaks, could be 4-1 after five games. That wish has been dashed. Now it's a matter of getting the first win and going from there.

The Vikings fans have been enthusiastic and forgiving in the recent past -- allowing blame last year to be thrown at Denny Green and, in the first two games this year to be launched at Culpepper and Brien.

A win today, especially a convincing win, and the 2002 season is on -- the Vikes will keep the dream alive. A loss today and Mike Tice will be having blame thrown his way for the first time and will have to do the best job of coaching possible -- keeping a team that should be winning together while they're losing.

* Byron Chamberlain remains a possibility to play today. He has taken part in more practice as the week has progressed and wants to play. However, Tice will make that call this morning and, for the potential good of the team, may rest him another week.
* The Vikings are clinging to the hope that won the Patriots the Super Bowl last year. Only one team last season started 0-2 and made the playoffs -- the world champion Patriots.
* John Randle has been deactivated again this week for the Seattle Seahawks. It looks like he will make his 2002 debut next week vs. the Vikings.
* The Vikings are minus-four on the giveaway/takeaway stats this year. That ties them for 29th in the league. Only two teams -- Pittsburgh (minus-seven) and Detroit (minus-five) are worse and it's no surprise that all three teams have started the year 0-2.
* The Vikings sent a tape to the NFL league office of 10 plays the team deemed as being "questionable" in its loss to Buffalo. Among them are a couple of holding calls not made vs. Randy Moss in the end zone and a helmet-to-helmet hit on Moss when he attempted to throw a pass. The league may respond privately to the team, but Tice averted questions about the bad calls last Sunday, saying he doesn't make enough money to get fined by the NFL for questioning the officiating.
* If Carolina's Michael Bates wouldn't have been injured this year, he may have had a chance to join the NFL elite this year. The next kickoff he returns for a touchdown, he will tie an all-time NFL record of six KO returns for TDs -- tying Ollie Matson, Gale Sayers, Travis Williams and Mel Gray for the record.

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