To most Vikings fans, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Minnesota is going to pummel the Lions Sunday. And why not? To look at the Lions numbers, it's tough to imagine they will win a game. In what initially appeared to be the easiest portion of their schedule (vs. Atlanta, Green Bay at home, at San Francisco and Chicago at home), the Lions have a record of 0-4, have allowed 34, 48, 31 and 34 points in those games, have thrown seven interceptions (three of those returned for touchdowns), don't have an interception themselves and have been outscored 147-66.
Detroit has fired its general manager, had its head coach forced to answer questions pertaining to whether he would resign in shame and come into the Metrodome Sunday with the likelihood of having to play backup QB Dan Orlovsky. In short, this should be a beatdown.
While fans and media are certain the Vikings will lay the smack down on Detroit, the Vikings aren't so quick to judge. The division rivalry between the Vikings and Lions is tantamount to the rivalry between a hammer and a nail – the Vikings have won 13 of the last 14 meetings between the teams. Yet, many of the Vikings veterans have learned not to overlook teams like the Lions. History shows that teams that have no business winning games sometimes pull off a monumental upset.
Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell can attest to that. As a rookie, he came to a Green Bay team that had the league MVP in Brett Favre and the Packers were flying high in defense of their title. They were 8-2 and heading in to face a Colts team that hadn't won and was so brutal that they got the No. 1 pick in the draft the following year and selected Peyton Manning, turning an ugly chapter in franchise history. But at the time, things couldn't have been more dismal in Indianapolis. The team stunk and the Packers were going to put the boots to them as the 21-point favorite. Right?
"I go back to my rookie year when I look at a team like Detroit," Longwell said. "The Packers had won the Super Bowl the year before and we were cruising on our way to the Super Bowl that year. We went and played an 0-10 Indianapolis and they not only beat us, they beat us bad. It goes to show that the stats don't always add up and tell the full story. This isn't a video game. They play hard and have enough talent to win games."
While the final score was 41-38, the only reason it was that close was the Packers scored a couple of desperation touchdowns in the final three minutes to tighten what was a blowout. Longwell said he has never forgotten that game and has refused to ever take an opponent lightly heading into a game.
As things have fallen into place for the Vikings – the Packers went from the penthouse at 2-0 to the outhouse at 2-3 and far from a cinch to snap their losing streak at Seattle this weekend, and the Bears have a tougher-than-expected game in Atlanta this weekend. If the home teams can win all three games, after a 1-3 start, the Vikings would be tied for the division lead heading into Chicago next week with a chance to be in sole possession of first place.
But that line of thinking implies that the Lions will be a pushover. For some Vikings players, like defensive end Jared Allen, the Lions are a team desperate for a win and likely willing to pull all of the trick plays and gadget plays out of their playbook in hopes of finding a way to win – making them a more dangerous team than meets the eye.
"We have to keep up the same intensity we had against New Orleans," Allen said. "Detroit is coming in here 0-4. Detroit is going to come in here and play their butts off. At 0-4, they have nothing to lose. That's the most dangerous type of team you can play. But we need to take the same sense of urgency that we need to play well and take advantage of the chances we get. They're fighting for jobs over there. People will do crazy things to keep food on their tables, especially in an economy like this."
Fans may have the impression that the Vikings are a mortal lock to win, but the players aren't patting themselves on the backs with self-assuredness. As big as Monday's win was, the Vikings are still 2-3 and 12 of the 16 teams in the NFC have a record that is either the same or better than the Vikes. They can't get cocky and overlook anyone at this point.
"We're not in a position to take anybody lightly," Leber said. "If we were 5-0 and they hadn't won a game, I could see where there could be the temptation to just assume you'll run them off the field. We're a team that is trying to improve and still have a lot to prove. We can't look at this game any differently than we looked at the New Orleans game going in."
The key, according to the players, is not to let the Lions stick around into the third and fourth quarter. It has been a formula that has worked for Detroit's other opponents this season. In the first quarter of their four games this year, the Lions have been outscored 38-0. They have dug themselves a hole early in every game and been forced to come from behind. The Vikings are coming into Sunday's game with the idea of putting their foot on Detroit's throat early and forcing them to abandon the run – to date the Lions have averaged less than 17 rushing attempts a game and 37 passes. If the Vikings can jump on them early, that trend should continue.
"We have to start fast," safety Darren Sharper said. "We've been focusing on that the last couple of games. The longer you let a team like that stay with you, the more confidence they're going to get. They've had teams jump on them early and that changes everything that you do on offense. That's what we have to do because it's something that has worked against them."
To most Vikings fans, they have already written a "W" in permanent ink next the Lions game already. Perhaps in the back of the minds of the Vikings players they feel the same way, but for now, they're not taking anything for granted.
"All we're trying to do is build momentum," Allen said. "We've got a lot of that going coming off the New Orleans game. If we were to lose to Detroit, all that momentum would go away. We can't let that happen. We can't look ahead. We just have to focus on beating Detroit and letting that momentum keep building week to week."
Vikings avoid haughty feelings facing Lions
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