Notebook: Vikings seek second-half focus

The Vikings return to practice Monday after one of the league's later byes. After a strong first half of the season, they are hopeful to maintain the same focus in the second half. Plus, Percy Harvin talked about his start with the Vikings and we update where the team stands in stats and rankings.

The Vikings return to practice Monday at noon with a bigger lead in the division than when the players left Winter Park last Monday for a week off. With Chicago and Green Bay both losing during the Vikings' bye week, Minnesota now holds a three-game lead over both teams, and with a series sweep of the Packers their lead is essentially four games over Green Bay with eight to play. The Vikings still have their two games against Chicago remaining.

But before the players left for their week off, they were hoping to return healthier and just as focused as when they left.

"I feel like everybody fought hard to get to this point," receiver Sidney Rice said last week. "When we come back, I just hope everybody's got the same focus that we left with."

That focus carried the Vikings to a 7-1 start in the first half of the season, with their only loss coming in Pittsburgh to the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers.

"Hopefully we go back home, get the appropriate rest and come back and go on another eight-game streak," cornerback Benny Sapp said.

One of the bigger questions facing the Vikings this week is whether or not Antoine Winfield is ready to resume action after missing the last 2½ games because of a foot injury. Winfield didn't practice at all before the last two games, so it will be interesting to see if he is on the field at noon today.

After struggling in the second half of the Baltimore game without him, the Vikings pass defense seemed to adjust to his absence pretty well with full weeks to prepare without him against the Steelers and Packers, both road games.

"We've got one man down and we've just got to keep pushing, man," Sapp said. "Knowing that we have one man down, everybody's coming together and playing a part in that."

Getting past the hype of Brett Favre playing against the Packers twice in the first half of the season should allow the Vikings to concentrate on football in a normal NFL environment in the second half of the season. At least, that's the hope.

"You would think so. These two, it's a blessing in disguise to get them over with before the bye. The fact that we got wins certainly is a plus," said former Packer Ryan Longwell.

To a man, players talk about Favre's competitive nature, love for the game and joking attitude in the locker room. It seems all the concerns about him not fitting in were unfounded.

"Brett came in from day one fitting in well even though he's old as I don't know what," defensive end Ray Edwards said. "He's old enough to be some of our guys' fathers, but he's definitely been accepted and just out having fun with us.

"Chemistry is just great. If you've got great chemistry, you definitely can make things happen. That means everybody is getting along, we've got great charisma and everybody is working well together. There's no separation, there's no division and no schism."

Now the focus is on taking advantage of their first-half record. The division would seem to be in good hands, but they could essentially seal their defense of the NFC North with wins against Detroit and Chicago in the next three weeks. They are also one game out of the conference lead, with only the unbeaten Saints in front of them.

But this team has remained steadfast in the long-held NFL axiom of focusing on only the next game and trying not to look at the big picture.

"Coming back in, we have another division game and we know how much that's going to mean to us," Rice said.

SATURDAY AT THE SWAMP

Wide receiver Percy Harvin spent Saturday watching the Florida Gators stay unbeaten with a 27-3 win over Vanderbilt. FightinGators.com caught up with Harvin at that game, where he talked about the talent surrounding him on the Vikings.

"I am blessed. When you have Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre, maybe the best quarterback in the history of the game … I am living the dream right now and I am blessed," Harvin said.

The blocking skills Harvin learned at Florida are coming into play in Minnesota, where the offensive philosophy emphasizes blocking from the receivers.

"I think here I learned about toughness, being able to block," Harvin said. "Up there, teams respect you a lot if you can block. We have a dynamic running back in Adrian Peterson, so being able to block for him is big.

"I love Minnesota, I don't like the cold weather, but I love playing there. They have a great fan base, not like here, but other than the cold weather it is great up there."

Harvin said he isn't concerning himself with the offensive rookie of the year award, an honor for which he would seem to be in the lead with two rookie of the week honors, 369 yards receiving and the second-best kick return average in the league at 30.7 yards per return.

STATS THROUGH SUNDAY

  • After Sunday's games, the Vikings have the 11th-ranked offense (13th rushing and 14th passing) and 18th-ranked defense (seventh against the run and 21st against the pass).

  • The Vikings rank second in the percentage of passes intercepted and third in third-down efficiency.

  • They also rank second in kickoff return average and points per game, and fourth in points per game differential.

  • Defensively, they are first in sacks per pass play.

  • The Vikings are second in the league in red zone defense, allowing only eight touchdowns in 23 red zone possessions for their opponents. They are eighth in red zone offense, scoring 20 touchdowns in 33 possessions inside the 20-yard line.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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