Lurtsema's Reaction: Big Strides in 2002

The Vikings made tremendous strides at the end of the 2002 season under Mike Tice, and they saw with this year's playoff picture they aren't very far away from being a postseason team. But there are some things to work on during the offseason.

For players in the National Football League, there isn't a better way to end the season than on a winning note, especially when their team is showing such tremendous improvement after a very unique 3-10 start. For the Vikings, ending with a 6-10 record and bumping off two playoff contenders in two of the last three games, the Dolphins and the Saints, then seeing the 9-6-1 Falcons make the playoffs, sends an obvious message to the Vikings players and coaches — one play change, that's just one play in each of four losses, would have put coach Mike Tices' hard-working crew in the playoffs.

Another neat thing about the Vikings' three-game winning streak to finish the 2002 season is that it tells us that this team does not need a complete overhaul. The players truly believe in Tice's approach, while the coach has picked up on the mentality and effort of those who will be around for the 2003 season.

For fans who wanted the Vikings to lose the last three games to get a higher draft choice, that is without a doubt the worst scenario that could ever be presented to a team. Getting the opportunity to draft even the best player coming out of college does not equal the other side of the equation — that is the number of players that have picked up their level of execution because they can see the fruits of their labor while winning games. At the same time they realize that one player does not make a football team. Players have to take care of their own responsibilities in their own house first before they'll mesh into a world championship team.

Last offseason, Coach Tice said repeatedly that Daunte Culpepper had to become a better student of the game, which he did this season, but the growing pains were obvious. As great of a job as the coaches have done this year, I must say that all of them need to become better students of clock management during this offseason. When I was starting with the New York Giants, late in both halves the players would always be thinking two plays ahead while being aware of how many time outs we had and the time on the clock. Our coaches would actually give us the scenario on the sidelines and relay it in the huddle — so we knew exactly when to take the time outs, or even on offense when to run out of bounds and when to stay in bounds.

There are areas of improvement needed in different phases of this team, but in ending this I want to let everyone know what a great job Mike Tice and his staff have done this year. There will be some changes, but you'll never be able to discredit the growing and learning process in this 2002 season — and more importantly the work ethic — that this entire organization has improved on. I can't wait until next year.

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