Despite the team's struggles, head coach Mike Tice has done an admirable job of keeping this team together. During the previous regime, there were multiple occasions when they starting eating each other alive during times such as this.
"When you're losing, everything is magnified," Tice said. "If two guys are seen talking then they're fighting, and if I'm seen using my hands I'm yelling. So, everything is magnified when you're losing. And that goes with losing.
"When we win we're better coaches and better players. When we lose, I can't coach a lick, I'm a rookie head coach and our players suck. That goes with losing, that's part of America and that's part of sports. So, you deal with it as you can and you make sure that your football family, the ones that matter the most, the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, video department, all the guys that have something to do every single day with getting us ready to play the actual game. We make sure that we're all together, that we're all on the same page, we all understand where the problems lie, where we have to fix those problems, and we understand that we're all accountable to each other."
When this thing eventually turns around, Tice is on the mark that these guys are going to really have a lot going for them.
"I think if you maintain that consistency, then you can battle through the hard times. If you can battle through the hard times, the good times are that much sweeter," he said.
This team has battled through things and stuck together. That wasn't always the case in recent years gone by.
"I think so, because we have guys that care," Culpepper said. "We have guys that care for each other and not just about themselves. I think that's what you get when you've got a group of guys that work hard. We know the situation that has happened, but we understand that everybody cares about each other and we want the best for each other."
Reading between the lines there, it's obvious that hasn't always been the case. And Culpepper gives Tice much of the credit for holding the team together.
"It has a lot to do with his approach, because he told us way back in the offseason when we had our first team meeting in the spring he wanted us to be a close-knit team. He wanted us to fight through whatever adversity and through whatever success we have. He wanted us to be together because we're a family until the season is over. We're a family and we've got to be that way."
It's a point Tice still emphasizes.
"We need to respect each other," he said. "We need to respect the coaches, the fans, the media, the game itself, and we can't lose all of that when you're losing. We have to understand if we're going to build this thing the right way that those things are very, very important to doing it the right way."
Well said, coach.
Flags and follies
If there's one thing the Vikings have shown over the past few weeks, it's that they have enough talent on hand to at least compete with even the best teams in the league. They knocked off the Packers when they appeared to be at the top of their game when they played in the Metrodome. They took Atlanta into overtime before Michael Vick almost single-handedly did them in.
There are still some obvious holes on this team. Personnel-wise, they could still use another blue-chip pass rusher, their secondary is still very uncertain, and on offense the line might be a little thinner than it should be. But it's no secret that for the most part they've beaten themselves with penalties and turnovers.
The "yesterday's-game-goes-in-the-proud-of-the-effort-and-proud-of-many-individual-performances" file is plum full. Nobody's more tired of that Monday-morning summary of things than Tice. And yet, more often than not, that's been the case this year.
Penalties have just killed the Vikings this year, as they are the most penalized team in the league.
"I've obviously tried as many different things as you can come up with using the experience of you and other coaches on your staff, of things that you could harp on, things you could talk about," Tice said.
"I think what we need to start talking about is not so much being penalty-free, because that doesn't seem to work, but minimize the penalties down to a specific number and challenging the players to that, ‘Hey, don't be one of those guys.' We've got the penalty issue. We've had it the entire season. It has hurt us at key times, and I think we need to continue to harp on being smart, playing smart football. Because some of the mistakes come with not playing smart football — you know, hitting guys out of bounds, hitting the quarterback late, that's not playing smart football. So, we have to continue to harp on those things and continue down the right road."
The other critical shortcoming has been the turnovers; whether they come in the form of fumbles or interceptions. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper leads the league in both categories this season, and those are obviously the wrong statistical categories to be the "leader."
The easier-said-than-done solution: Breaking the pink tiger syndrome. What's that? Trying to avoid penalties and turnovers.
As you read this, don't think about a pink tiger. What happens? You visualize a pink tiger. Instead, think about an orange tiger.
Now what do you visualize? It's no longer the pink tiger; it's the orange tiger.
The key to avoiding penalties and turnovers isn't trying to avoid penalties and turnovers. You just end up trying not to screw up.
The key is to start doing things right. Focus on sound fundamental football. Sound fundamental football includes good ball security, sound technique, patience, discipline, attention to detail, focus, intensity and an overall pride in your craft as a professional. Doing those things won't leave room for penalties and turnovers.
"We certainly don't want to practice having penalties in practice. And we feel that if in practice we don't have the penalties, then we shouldn't have them in the game," Tice said. "Beyond that, I'm not going to admonish a guy up and down and rant and rave and call him every name in the book when he has a penalty. I know that he needs to be corrected and he needs to be continually — we need to continually remind the team of what is legal and what's not legal. It's not legal to hit a quarterback after he throws the ball. It's not legal to hit a guy after he passes the stripe. Concentration on [the ball and not the cadence] on offside penalties.
"I know what we have to do to eliminate the penalties and we're going to continue to work at it."
Staying Together In Turbulent Times
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