VU: How big of a difference does it make not having Antoine Winfield out there?
BL: It's amazing how they always talk about big, tough football players and that little man, that hero, at about 5-foot-1, 102 pounds, how much he is missed. Pound-for-pound, I don't know anybody that I've been around – maybe Bobby Bryant – that played like that. He's such a sure tackler, he forces things and he deserves the Pro Bowl vote he got last year and for sure the many years before that. But, man, do they miss him back there. He is just such a huge part of things and could have made a difference in the Pittsburgh game. I can't say how much they truly miss him.
VU: Do you feel like this is a decent time to go without him, if he had to miss some time, because of the bye and then coming back against the Lions? Are you impressed that the rest of the guys have been able to step it up enough and keep the winning ways going?
BL: There is still a lot of talent. This is really, really a good football team. But they sound like they're taking the Lions a little bit too light. I know they're assuming they can win and they're going to rest him this game, but I don't like that type of attitude. You can't ever look past anybody. After talking to the players and everything, they're fighting it right now with looking at the Lions a little too easily. If they win by three points, that's fine. They don't have to win by 20 to prove that they're good, but they do have to win. That attitude is contagious – whether it's a winning attitude or a losing attitude, it's all contagious. If you take a game a little lightly, that's contagious too and that's when disaster can strike.
VU: How tough is that, though, when you have a 7-1 team going against a 1-7 team and you've dominated the series? It's got to be difficult to muster up that same motivation as you would against a quality opponent.
BL: I always liked playing the tougher competition. For some reason, I always seemed to have my A game on with those teams. With the "I" in team, you've got to make sure you perform your job to the best of your ability. You don't want the Detroit Lions game to be the worst game of the season or for you the worst game of your career. That's a motivating force on a veteran team. The younger guys have to learn that – how to make that adjustment. Also, the younger guys are coming up against the feeling that their season as a college player is almost over. They're going into a second season against an easier team, so a lot of younger players get a tremendous wakeup call in a game like this in this part of the season in their first or second year as a pro.
VU: With the lead the Vikings have in the NFC North right now, is it a good thing for them to forget about where they are in the division and shoot for the bigger goals in the NFC – looking for a bye into the playoffs and competing with the Saints for that top spot in the conference?
BL: You want that home-field advantage. You want that bye week. That's the little icing on the cake that you can have if you win your division and are one of the best teams in the conference. But, for those that haven't been involved in the game, we're all looking for the Super Bowl and looking for the playoffs and looking ahead. There are eight more games. Say what you want, but I'll remember that the best team the Vikings ever had – at least according to our great trainer, Fred Zamberletti – was the 1972 Vikings and we were 7-7 that year.
VU: How big of a concern are the comebacks that teams like the Ravens and Packers had against the Vikings for stretches of games? Do you see a different approach in the defense that the Vikings are taking when they get a big lead or is it simply a letdown?
BL: That's just the way football is played. You're not always going to play you're A game and make everything happen perfectly for four quarters. They're professionals too, but perfection is always what you're striving for. The neat part is that if the other team does score and the Vikings need a drive with a couple minutes to go, the players have the confidence that they're going to do it. Brett Favre will do that. He'll find a way to win. It's no different than when you're losing and it seems you're finding different ways to lose the game. The best part about the roller-coaster ride is that you find out about the character of your team and the confidence that you have. And then when it comes to crunch time, you know you're going to come out on top.
VU: What's your biggest concern for this team in the second half of this season?
BL: That's a good question. Right now, I don't have a concern. I was in the locker room on Friday and they were having fun and messing around. They had a little sponge-ball hoops game going. It reminded me of when we were winning all the time. I don't really have a concern. Sure, you don't want injuries, but you also don't discuss them. They are a very, very good football team. I have to give Brad Childress credit. He has put together a team of great chemistry. They have quite a lot of chemistry in that locker room and it's the total picture. These guys get along so well with each other and there is obviously no schism. So I don't have any concerns. They lost a heartbreaker at Pittsburgh, but it wasn't a big deal. They went out the next week and won and they'll continue that.
Bob Lurtsema registered 57 regular-season sacks and three in the playoffs during his 12-year career as a defensive lineman in the NFL, playing with the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and was the longtime publisher of Viking Update. He joins VikingUpdate.com for a weekly Q & A session, and his monthly column appears in the magazine.
Lurtsema's Reaction: The big picture
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