The Vikings entered November with a 2-5 record and the look of a team that appeared either overmatched, uninterested or both.
A 34-0 loss at the hands of the host Green Bay Packers on Nov. 11 did little to alter this perception.
But things have changed markedly in the past two weeks.
Back-to-back victories over Oakland (29-22) and the New York Giants (41-17) have pulled Minnesota's record to 5-6 and into the thick of a jumbled NFC playoff race.
"I look at disgust as being a great motivator," coach Brad Childress said of his team's change in demeanor since the Green Bay loss. "Whether you're in the gutter and you're disgusted with yourself or you've gained 60 pounds and you're disgusted with yourself. There is a point where you just say, ‘I can't stand (it).'
"I don't think that any of (the players) would have wanted their football career to end after that Green Bay game, or our coaching career, and I just think that they have decided to rise up and do something about it."
The Vikings are looking to become only the third NFL team since the 1970 merger to begin 2-5 and end up with a postseason berth. It isn't going to be easy, but Minnesota could take a significant step if it is able to stretch its winning streak to three with a victory over the struggling Detroit Lions on Sunday at the Metrodome.
The Vikings certainly won't be hurt by the expected return of rookie phenom Adrian Peterson, who remains the NFL's leading rusher despite missing the past two games because of a slight tear of the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee.
While Minnesota's offense could get a boost with Peterson back, it's the defense that has been a key factor in helping the Vikings win three of their past four games.
Coordinator Leslie Frazier has come up with game plans that have left San Diego's Philip Rivers, Oakland's Daunte Culpepper and the Giants' Eli Manning facing frequent blitzes and multiple looks. The Vikings didn't attempt this against the Packers' Brett Favre and paid the price.
There is little doubt the Vikings will go after the Lions' Jon Kitna on Sunday. Kitna helped lead Detroit to an overtime victory over the Vikings in Week 2. That is one of a few close games the Vikings would like to have back.
The theme laid out by Childress since the Green Bay loss has been a one-game-at-a-time approach that is cliched yet often effective.
That means few players are willing to talk about the chances of the Vikings actually making the playoffs. "We don't want to think about (getting into the postseason) too much right now," safety Darren Sharper said. "But we definitely know that we have a team that's good enough to be. We've played with everybody we've faced this year, so we knew we had a playoff-caliber team."
Rookie running back Adrian Peterson is expected to return Sunday against Detroit but he won't be carrying a full workload.
Instead, look for him to split carries with Chester Taylor just as they did early in the season.
Peterson, who suffered a slightly torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee Nov. 11 against Green Bay, had moved into the starting role ahead of Taylor and was getting the bulk of the carries before the injury.
Taylor is a more than capable running back, having rushed for 1,216 yards last season and 545 yards this year on 114 attempts.
"You're not going to go back there and turn over the whole load to him," coach Brad Childress said of Peterson. "Those guys have been good playing off of each other. There are conditioning factors involved, there are fatiguing factors involved when you get involved in playing a 65- or 70-play game. We'll have a pulse on how he practices and who gets what."
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Interceptions the Vikings returned for touchdowns in 1992, setting a team record. Minnesota has five this season, including three last Sunday in a 41-17 victory over the New York Giants.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Even during practice, whenever you get an interception in a drill, you have to run it and take it all the way and score, no matter if you're 10 yards away or 100 yards away. I think that we run that repetition in practice to get in that mindset and it has worked for us. We've been a defense that has scored with the football once we get turnovers, so it's a good thing that (defensive coordinator Leslie) Frazier makes us do." — Safety Darren Sharper, who had one of the Vikings' interception returns for a touchdown last Sunday, on the team's mindset about trying to score on defense.
Hope Renewed With November Effort
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