The Minnesota Vikings are still learning how to win, especially in adverse conditions on the road. The process of learning how to win takes time, and fortunately for them they had just enough time — 59 minutes, 55 seconds — to get it done Sunday in New Orleans. They put on an exciting display, but when it came time to put up and end their 17-game losing streak on the road they may have been the only ones who believed they could do it.
It had been so long since they had done it — more than two years — that many of the players were relying on the distant past to carry them. Linebacker Greg Biekert was in the playoffs last year with the Oakland Raiders, but he knows this team still needs to manage the game properly when they are put in a situation to win. The games are played on Sunday, but they are won and lost during the week of practice.
During the crucial final 12 minutes of a game is when players must believe that what they learned throughout the week will carry them to a win. While most of the fans got the here-we-go-again feeling when New Orleans took a 31-24 lead with 5:21 left in the game, the Vikings relied on a week of learning about the Saints to expect the win. I don't believe there was a Vikings fan who thought they could win this game at this point since they had lost every imaginable way this year. I've said it before, if a team can think of a way to win during an NFL contest, then it can be executed on the field, but they must believe it. If they can only think about another way to lose, then they most often do lose since they've already accepted that fate in their mind.
What the Vikings learned in practice was that misdirection plays, including reverses, could keep the Saints' athletic defensive line off-balance and limit its aggression. The aggressive defensive line still got in Daunte Culpepper's face, but he played a smart game, like he has for the past month. He averaged 10.4 yards on seven rushes, and he is learning to go through his progressions in this offense. That takes time for a quarterback to do.
But mostly this win — and the end of the road losing streak — came down to the Vikings' desire to never quit. Last year the Vikings did quit on Dennis Green at times. That hasn't happened all year because this team is taking on Mike Tice's personality. It would have been easy to do again, as the Vikings were losing to a playoff team at home, and the Vikings were coming off a game in which the officials denied them a sweep of rival Green Bay. The Vikings could have even started looking ahead to a home game against Cris Carter and Miami. Instead, they stayed with what they practiced during the week and made it work for them.
Chris Walsh is calling this win and his team's habits a solid start to building a complete team. He said it's like building a pyramid, as without a solid foundation there is no solid structure. Tice looks to have the start of his three-year plan to a world championship in place. He has players out there who are unwilling to quit, and now he has players that can find a way to win on the road and believe in themselves — even when almost no one else does.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Building A Winner
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