Ready for a run?

The Vikings are in a similar position to what they faced last year about this time, when they went on a five-game winning streak and gave themselves a chance at the playoffs. They seem to be feeling better about themselves coming out of the bye.

The Vikings find themselves at a critical juncture as they return from their bye on Sunday to play host to Houston.

While they are a disappointing 3-4, Minnesota only trails first place Chicago and Green Bay by one game in the mediocre NFC North and has an excellent chance to make up ground in the next two weeks with back-to-back home games.

This is especially true because the Texans game will be followed by a match-up with the Packers. The Vikings have lost at both Green Bay and Chicago this year. In order to have a realistic shot at the division title, Minnesota is going to need to beat those teams at the Metrodome.

Coach Brad Childress made it clear before the bye that his club is going to need to start taking things one game at a time and not get ahead of itself. That might be a cliche, but it worked for the Vikings last season after starting with a 3-6 record. Childress is hoping his club can get on a roll much earlier this year.

The Vikings were three games under .500 in 2007 after an embarrassing 34-0 loss at Green Bay, but the next week edged the Oakland Raiders 29-22 at the Metrodome.

That started a five-game winning streak that included victories over the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants (41-17), Detroit (42-10), San Francisco (27-7) and Chicago (20-13).

The win streak put the Vikings back in playoff contention, but they lost their final two games to finish 8-8. Three offseason additions created big expectations for the Vikings. They signed receiver Bernard Berrian and safety Madieu Williams, a pair of free agents. And they landed Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen in a trade with Kansas City.

The team hasn't lived up to those expectations and there is no doubt the heat on Childress is much higher than it was a year ago at this time. In his third season, fans began chants of "Fire Childress" the last time the Vikings played a home game.

And the Vikings beat the Lions, 12-10, that day.

Childress is hoping the bye week will mean his players return fresh. They were given most of last week off. He also is hoping he and his coaching staff picked up on some areas in which the Vikings can improve.

"(It was) a good break for the guys," Childress said. "I think the biggest thing team-wise is allowing these guys to get fresh mentally and physically. I think they all enjoyed their time, and by the looks of the work right here (in practice) they didn't lose anything. They might have gained something.

"(The coaches) were able to pull apart the run game, the pass game and some of the tendencies by the personnel. (We were able) to learn some things about ourselves. ... That's what byes are always good for. With seven weeks down and nine to go it's important that you make sure that you're looking at yourself like other people are looking at you. A lot of times when you separate yourself from the emotions of the game, a week removed or two weeks removed, you're able to go back and see some things that stand out."

SERIES HISTORY: 2nd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead the series, 1-0, having beaten the Texans 34-28 in overtime in Houston during the 2004 season.

NOTES

  • LB David Herron did not practice Wednesday and isn't expected to play Sunday against Houston. Herron was injured on Oct. 12 against Detroit and did not play the following week at Chicago. The Vikings had a bye last week.

  • DE Ray Edwards was limited in practice Wednesday because of a knee injury suffered at Chicago. He is expected to be able to play against the Texans.

  • TE Garrett Mills was limited in practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury suffered at Chicago.

  • WR Sidney Rice was limited in practice because of a knee injury he has been battling since being hurt in Week 2 against Indianapolis. Rice saw limited action at Chicago but should be ready to get more work this Sunday.

  • S Madieu Williams was limited Wednesday but is expected to make his debut with the Vikings on Sunday after being out since early in training camp because of a neck injury.

  • QB Tarvaris Jackson was back with the team Wednesday after being excused Monday to tend to a family matter.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've learned not to speak hypothetically. A lot of times you speak hypothetically, you get yourself in trouble and I don't want to do that at this point. Let's speak hypothetically about it after we beat Houston. Let's talk about it then." --Vikings safety Darren Sharper after being asked about the report Pro Bowl tackles Kevin and Pat Williams are facing four-game suspensions from the NFL for taking water pills and what that would mean to the defense if it happened.



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