The Vikings have won four in a row, and with each win seems to come more confidence in their ability to be a factor in the playoffs. Still, they have a number of questions that need to be answered first.
The Vikings' locker room in University of Phoenix Stadium was filled with confidence late Sunday afternoon.
A 35-14 victory over the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals had put Minnesota on the brink of wrapping up the NFC North title and also had some eyeing playoff positioning.
The Vikings, who will play host to Atlanta and the New York Giants in their final two games, need a victory Sunday over the Falcons or a loss by the Bears on Monday night against Green Bay to clinch the division.
The Vikings also have an opportunity to move up to as high as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, if things fall right and the team continues to win. The Vikings' victory over the Cardinals was their fourth in a row, including three on the road.
"It's motivation," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe
said of the race for a better seed. "Coach wants us to go one game at a time, but of course we do think ahead a little bit. ... There are teams that I feel we can really beat. I'm going to say something kind of outlandish, but if we play our ‘A' game, I don't see any team in the NFL beating us, to be honest."
The Vikings' road got a bit more difficult, however, with the news that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams
suffered a broken right scapula against Arizona and would be lost for two to six weeks.
This means Williams, one of the NFL's best run-stoppers, is finished for the regular season. The reality is the Vikings would need to make a pretty decent playoff run to get Williams back on the field before the 2009 season.
Third-year defensive tackle Fred Evans
, who had served as Williams' backup, will take over the starting role. Evans will now pair with another Pro Bowl tackle, Kevin Williams
, in trying to be dominant against the run.
This is the second major loss for the Vikings defense this season. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson was lost in the fourth game of the season against Tennessee after injuring his foot. Napoleon Harris
, a former Viking who had just been released by Kansas City, was signed as a free agent and has done a nice job filling in for Henderson.
The Vikings defense isn't the only place where uncertainty exists. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson
has played very well in place of Gus Frerotte
since the veteran went out because of a lower-back injury late in the first half two weeks ago against Detroit. Jackson had four touchdown passes Sunday in Arizona, and it's hard to believe coach Brad Childress would send Jackson back to the bench as long as he is playing this well.
But Childress appears intent on keeping everyone guessing on this one. This is due in part to the fact that he likely wants to see how Frerotte's back feels as the week goes on. There is a good chance Frerotte simply won't be ready for Sunday's game.
"I'll certainly discuss it with those two guys before I discuss it with anybody else," Childress said.
QB Tarvaris Jackson made his first start Sunday since being benched after the Vikings started 0-2 and played very well in a 35-14 victory over the host Arizona Cardinals. Jackson completed 11 of 17 passes for only 163 yards, but he threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions and had a very solid 135.5 passer rating. It appears as if Jackson's time away from starting gave him time to adjust his approach. He has made it clear that his goal now is to not put too much pressure on himself and simply to go out and have fun.
QB Gus Frerotte sat out Sunday because of a lower-back injury that also could keep him sidelined for this weekend's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Frerotte was injured late in the first half of the Vikings' 20-16 victory over the Detroit Lions on Dec. 7. Frerotte is 8-3 as the Vikings' starter this season.
RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 165 yards on 28 carries against the Cardinals and now holds the Vikings' single-season record for rushing yards. Peterson has 1,581 yards, breaking the mark of 1,521 set by Robert Smith in the 2000 season. Peterson has nine 100-plus-yard rushing games this season and has gone over that mark the past three games. His 28 carries were two behind the season high he established on Nov. 9 against Green Bay, when he rushed for 192 yards.
RB Chester Taylor rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries against the Cardinals, easily his most productive day on the ground this year. Taylor's previous high had been a 10-carry, 46-yard effort against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 30 at the Metrodome. Taylor also caught a team-leading four passes for 37 yards with an 11-yard touchdown in the victory. Taylor is third on the Vikings with 39 receptions on the season.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe had only one reception for 8 yards against the Cardinals. Shiancoe, however, has at least one catch in every game this year and has been held to a single reception on five occasions. He was coming off one of his best games of the season a week ago in Detroit when he caught five passes for 65 yards with a touchdown. He now has 33 catches for 446 yards and five touchdowns this season.
WR Bernard Berrian had only one catch, but it turned out to be key. Berrian, who got the Vikings' first touchdown of the game by returning a punt 82 yards in the first quarter, then made a beautiful reception on a 41-yard scoring pass from Tarvaris Jackson later in the quarter. Berrian leads the Vikings with six touchdown catches on the season. Sunday marked his first multi-touchdown catch game as a Viking.
WR Bobby Wade caught two passes for 67 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown, as the Vikings won in his home state of Arizona. Wade, who played college football at Arizona and had family and friends at Sunday's game, leads the Vikings with 44 receptions this season and now has two touchdown catches. The 59-yard reception was the longest of Wade's six-year NFL career.
DE Jared Allen, who has been playing despite suffering a grade-3 sprain of his right shoulder on Nov. 2 against Houston, also played through an undisclosed left knee injury Sunday. Allen did not practice last Wednesday or Thursday and was limited Friday after being hurt in the Vikings' victory at Detroit on Dec. 7. It didn't matter. He still had two sacks, bringing his season total to 14.5, and added four quarterback hurries.
CB Benny Sapp was credited with five tackles at Arizona. Sapp saw extensive action and played well in the Vikings' nickel defense, which was on the field for much of the afternoon. Sapp was shaken up in the first half playing special teams but remained in the game.