Road Warriors, Or At Least Improving

The Vikings have had a losing road record since the beginning of the century (don't you love hyperbole early in a century?), but they believe they are improving and know they can't look past the 49ers.

In recent years, the road has not been kind to the Vikings. Last year, the Vikings were 3-5 on the road. The year before that, they were 3-5. The year before that they were 3-5. The year before that, they were 3-5. The year before that, they were 2-6. The year before that, they were 0-8. The Vikings haven't been .500 on the road since 2000 and the trend has been steady.

Early this year, it looked as though the Vikings would go down a very similar path. They started 0-2 on the road and things looked as though they weren't going to improve. But, after the last four road games – in the hostile environments of Chicago Dallas, Green Bay and New York – it would have been easy to predict that the Vikings would be 0-6 or 1-5 at best.

But they haven't. Aside from the humiliating road loss at Green Bay, with a win Sunday at San Francisco, the Vikings will be above .500 for the first time since Week 1 of the season, will have a four-game winning streak for the first time in the Brad Childress era and will notch a second straight road win.

So what has changed this season? The wins haven't come as easily as one would hope – after all, they're still 2-4 on the road – but the team looks like it has turned itself around and realizes that it needs to take its game up a notch whether at home or on the road.

"We're just looking at this weekend as a business trip," defensive tackle Pat Williams said. "All we have to do is get on a plane, go out there and do our business and come home. It's that simple."

It hasn't always been that simple. The Vikings have struggled on the road against many opponents that, on paper, you would think the Vikings should beat. The Niners were an awful team when the Vikings went to San Francisco last year. Yet the 49ers came away with a hideous 9-3 win. They found a way to win, or, perhaps more accurately, the Vikings found a way to lose.

"We've struggled at times on the road the last few years," center Matt Birk said. "It isn't easy for anyone to win on the road. That's why teams play the regular season – so that the team with the best record in the conference gets to play at home. You have the travel. You have the crowd noise. It all adds up. That's why you don't see too many teams with better records on the road than they have at home."

Of the league's 32 teams, only eight have more wins on the road than at home and with two of them (the Patriots and 49ers) it is because they have played more games on the road than at home – both of them are starting three-game homestands this week. There are many breaks in the normal routine that players are so regimented in learning when a team goes on the road. For the Vikings, the problems associated with being on the road has been difficult, but, for the most part, they have played much better on the road this year than in previous years – even if the record doesn't show it.

"Aside from the Green Bay, we haven't really had a bad game on the road," said linebacker Ben Leber of the Vikings' road warrior status. "Early in the year, we lost a couple of games by three points. We had a field goal that hits the post or we win at Detroit. We had a chance at the end of the game to beat Kansas City. We were ahead of Dallas in the second half. We had chances to win all of those games. But, we're doing a better job of making sure we don't have a letdown on the road and I think no game showed that more than the Giants game."

When the Vikings played the New York Giants at the Meadowlands, they dominated almost every aspect of the game. They got up early. They got turnovers. They got points.

"You can cut the noise factor by playing well early," Williams said. "We've been focused on the road most of the season and, if you can get up on somebody early in the game, the crowd isn't going to be a problem. They want to see their team win. If they're not playing well, the crowd doesn't make noise."

Fans in San Francisco have had little to cheer about all year. After winning their first two games of the season, the 49ers have dropped nine of the 10 games since and only the winless Dolphins have a worse record. It has been a nightmarish season and the Vikings aren't looking past them – especially after what they did to Minnesota last year. For some players, going on the road has been a positive instead of the negative it has so consistently been over the years.

"I actually enjoy playing on the road," Leber said. "You can just go to your hotel and focus. You don't have the distractions that you have when you're at home. You're pretty isolated and can concentrate on what you need to get done. We've seen an improvement in our play on the road this season and we expect to keep that going this week and when we have our last road game (at Denver) of the regular season."

So the mantra continues. Just keep focused. Just keep executing. And just win, baby.

"It sounds pretty easy, doesn't it?" Williams asked with chuckle. "It isn't always that way. But we're all on the same page. Sunday will be a business trip – pure and simple. We aren't out there to have fun or see the town. We're out there for business and we're bringing that attitude with us. Take care of our business and leave."

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