In the span of one week, the Vikings went from the catbird seat to outside the house looking in for the final spot in the NFC playoffs. Coming off a five-game winning streak, the Vikings' landslide of momentum seemed to be sweeping them into the playoffs, but, with a big first half from the Washington Redskins, all of the momentum they had built over the last month-plus evaporated.
In their biggest game of the season – a chance to wrap up the final playoff spot that would force the Giants to play full-out on Saturday night against the Patriots to avoid the chance of the losing the fifth seed in the playoffs – the Vikings laid an egg. The Redskins and Clinton Portis were able to run on the Vikings defense, Adrian Peterson got completely bottled up and the Vikings didn't look anything like a team fighting for their playoff lives.
So what now? According to the Vikings players, it's a matter of coming back and winning their final game in hopes that, with some help from the Dallas Cowboys, they can get back into the playoff chase.
"It was a blow, but it was one game," tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "We need to get past that and look at Denver as our chance to get a win and let the rest of it take care of itself."
The magnitude of the loss to the Redskins was made worse by the Packers' loss to Chicago earlier last Sunday. With that loss, the Cowboys locked down the No. 1 seed in the NFC and their game with the Redskins was rendered relatively meaningless to Dallas. They don't have to win as a result and can rest their injured starters for the entire game and most of the key players for most of the game.
It has left the Vikings having to win and keep an eye on the scoreboard to see how the Redskins are faring with the Cowboys' B team. Will they pay attention? That depends on who you ask.
"We can't be concerned with what's going on in other games," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We have to take care of our business. We'll have enough to concern ourselves with in Denver without worrying about how the other games are going."
The "other games" of which Greenway speaks, in reality, is just one game – the Cowboys and Redskins. With the time of the Dallas-Washington game being pushed back from noon Central Time to 3:15 p.m., the games will be going on simultaneously and the updates will probably be flashed on the Jumbotron at Invesco Field at Mile High – making it impossible for word not to get out.
"We can say we're not going to look at the scoreboard or concern ourselves with what is going on, but you know that somehow, some way the word is going to get out what's going on in that game," wide receiver Bobby Wade. "Our concentration will be on the game, but there will be somebody who knows the score and the word will get around."
With the primary objective of the Vikings' focused on beating Denver and trying to regain their lost momentum, putting the letdown performance against the Redskins out of their mind has to be the top priority.
"It's a long season when you play 16 games," linebacker Ben Leber said. "You have streaks where everything is going well and times when things all seem to go wrong. But this team has never quit and there were times when some teams might have done it. We got off to a bad start and had to work our way back. I guess I point to the Packers game (in which the Vikings lost 34-0). There might have been teams that would have packed it in after that game. Nobody in this locker room did. Any chance we have now, we have because these guys refused to let that loss be what defined our season."
Can that momentum come back? It did after the Packers game and the Vikings are hopeful it will against Denver as well.
"We've had some adversity, but we find a way to come back from it," wide receiver Robert Ferguson said. "You can't spend all your time thinking about it. You can't turn checkers into chess. You just have to focus on the job at hand and not worry about what has happened before."
It would seem that the momentum has begun building itself back in the locker room already.
"We didn't get too low when things weren't going our way," Leber said. "At the same time, we didn't get too high or too full of ourselves when things started turning around for us. We have a lot of leaders who haven't let that happen. We've stayed focused and just looked at the game in front of us. I know you've heard it before, but we're really just looking one game at a time."
That theory will become reality starting this week. First will come Denver. If things work out, Seattle will be next and, with a win, Dallas would follow. While the Vikings saw a golden opportunity slip away from them, their focus remains on building one-game momentum, whether it serves as a springboard to the playoffs or simply a win that helps the team finish 9-7. Either way, their "one game at a time" mantra will play itself out – whether their 2007 has one game left or more than that.
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