Sunday Morning Massacre

A host of news, notes and quotes on Byron Chamberlain's reduced role, Jim Kleinsasser's value, the health of the receiving corp, former Vikings Rich Gannon and Cris Carter, and a comparison that won't leave Mike Tice feeling so bad about a downer of a rookie year as a head coach.

At the start of the season, Byron Chamberlain appeared to be a lock to have a monster season for a tight end. In his first season with the Vikings, he caught 57 passes for 666 yards and three touchdowns to earn a Pro Bowl berth.

Chamberlain signed a five-year deal with the Vikings during the offseason, and the expectation was he would see the ball even more frequently in 2002.

But in the first game against Chicago, Chamberlain sprained his left knee, causing him to miss two games. That might have been a sign of things to come for Chamberlain.

It's not that Chamberlain is not catching as many passes as last season, he is not even seeing the ball that much.

In the Vikings' 30-24 overtime loss to Atlanta last Sunday, he had only one pass directed at him. Chamberlain enters today's game against Green Bay tied for fourth on the team with 26 catches.

So what happened? Part of the answer is that Jim Kleinsasser has seen his role expand.

"We think Jimmy is playing outstanding football for us, and Jimmy gives us a little more versatility," said head coach Mike Tice, a former tight end. "When Jimmy is on the field, he can block, catch and run, whereas right now the role that we've kind of carved out for Byron is more of an in-the-slot tight end. So that's why he's playing less and Jimmy is playing more."

Chamberlain's best games of the season came in back-to-back weeks. He caught five passes in the Oct. 13 victory over Detroit and followed that up with six catches against the Jets. Since then, Chamberlain has not caught more than three passes in a game.

"I've just been rolling with what's going on," he said. "I'm never one to complain. I do feel that my role was bigger last year, and I think if given an opportunity I still can make plays and try to help this team win. But, right now, I'm not getting those opportunities. There's nothing I can do about it but continue to prepare and be ready when I'm called on. It's definitely disappointing, especially coming off a pretty good season personally last year."

As far as the future, Chamberlain does not sound as if he expects his role to increase.

"Really, at this point I go into a game with no expectations," he said. "If the ball comes my way, I'm going to catch it and get some yards. But as far as being involved in the game plan, having plays designed for me, I don't have any expectations of that happening."

A battered bunch
The Vikings' wide receiver corps has taken a beating this season.

Derrick Alexander, of course, is on injured reserve. D'Wayne Bates enters the Green Bay game listed as questionable with a sprained ligament in his left knee. Rookie Kelly Campbell is nursing a sore foot, and Chris Walsh is still nursing an injured leg. Cedric James has missed the previous three weeks with a sprained ankle.

"The receiving corps is a little banged up," Tice said. "Not a little, a lot banged up."

The only healthy receivers on the roster are Moss and Davis. They were the only two Vikings receivers not listed on the weekly injury report.

Better than the BCS
The New York Times' computer football rankings, which are based on an analysis of each team's scores with emphasis on three factors — who won, by what margin and against what quality of opponents — ranked the Vikings 27th after Week 13. The Chicago Bears were ranked 28th and the Detroit Lions 31st, ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals. The Green Bay Packers, the only winning team in the NFC North, were ranked eighth.

Good company
Tice can take solace in the fact that some head coaches who turned out to have impressive careers in the NFL had less than impressive starts. Tom Landry struggled in his first five seasons building the Cowboys. He was 0-11-1 in his first season, then 4-9-1, 5-8-1, 4-10 and 5-8-1. Bill Parcells was 3-12-1 in his first year with the Giants, 5-11 in his second year.

Gannon chasing NFL record
Former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon has a chance to break one of the NFL's most impressive records — Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage total in 1984, when he threw for 5,084 yards.

Through the first 12 games, Gannon has thrown for 3,877 yards. That leaves him 1,207 yards shy of Marino's mark. With four more 300-yard games, Gannon could break the record. He enters today's game in San Diego with nine 300-yard games already this season, which already tied him for that record held by Marino, Warren Moon (another former Vikings quarterback) and Rams quarterback Kurt Warner.

After being the Vikings' starting quarterback in 1990 and '91, Gannon shared the starting duties with Sean Salisbury in '92. Green opted to sign free agent Jim McMahon in '93, which put an end to the Gannon era in Minnesota.

Carter returns
Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter is expected to play in the Dolphins' Monday night game against Chicago after missing four games because of a kidney ailment.

Carter, 37, who has played only one game with the Dolphins since ending his retirement and signing on Oct. 21, will serve as a backup to James McKnight and Chris Chambers. Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said Carter will work out of the slot position, along with Dedric Ward, when Miami goes to three- and four-receiver sets.

"That will give him a chance to get back into it a little bit and won't put as much pressure on him," Wannstedt said.

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