Archive for Saturday, December 20, 2003

Victory over Chiefs vital to Vikings

Minnesota trying to make playoffs; K.C. wants home-field edge

December 20, 2003

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— The Minnesota Vikings want nothing to do with history this season.

Only one team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 has started 6-0 and failed to qualify for the postseason -- the 1978 Washington Redskins, who finished 8-8.

The 2003 Vikings will try their best to make sure they're not the second team to do it.

"It's a shame we make it hard on ourselves," said coach Mike Tice, whose team has wiped out a 6-0 start with six losses in its last eight games.

Tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay (8-6), the Vikings still can win the division with victories in their final two games.

The first one is a tough task -- today at home against Kansas City (12-2). The Chiefs, the league's highest-scoring team, are trying to secure the AFC's top seed for the playoffs and gain homefield advantage throughout the postseason.

"I think the big thing they have going in their favor right now is playing at home and the desperate situation they are in from a playoff standpoint," Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said of the Vikings. "I know we'll find them probably in the same state of mind we found Denver two weeks ago. Whether they handle it as well as Denver did or whether we handle it as poorly, I don't know."

The Broncos, behind 215 yards and five rushing touchdowns from Clinton Portis, beat the Chiefs, 45-27, keeping their wild-card hopes afloat. The Vikings would love to copy that formula -- not only with the back-against-wall mentality but by successfully running the ball.

"Whether it is three or seven, we have to score when we get the ball in our hands," Tice said. "We can't stall when we cross the 50. We certainly can't stall when we get in the red zone."

Minnesota dominated Chicago for most of last week's game but still lost, 13-10. After missing Michael Bennett last week, the Vikings plan to have three healthy running backs with Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith getting carries, too.

"We know what's at stake," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "They're going to come after us."

If the Vikings lose, they'll have to hope the NFL's mind-numbing tiebreaker system works in their favor. If the Packers defend their division title, Minnesota will have to fend off several teams for one of the two wildcard spots.

"We've got to steer our own ship instead of having to depend on somebody else," offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "They're already in the playoffs, and we're trying to get in, so we've got more to fight for."

The Chiefs, the only team that remained unbeaten longer than the Vikings, have shown weaknesses. They'd like nothing better than to spend January at Arrowhead Stadium -- a place where they have a team-record 12-game winning streak running.

But in their past five games, they've allowed an average of more than 27 points and forced only four turnovers.

"We've bounced back," cornerback Eric Warfield said.

Though the Vikings and Chiefs only play every so often in the regular season, they know each other well. Minnesota's training camp in Mankato, Minn., is only a few hours from Kansas City's summer home in River Falls, Wis., so they get together every year.

They've had four scrimmages, plus a preseason game at Arrowhead, already in 2003. They weren't light workouts, either. Things got pretty intense.

"I'm sure both teams are going back to their practice tape from those scrimmages," Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks said. "They know a little about our tendencies, and we know a little about their tendencies. It should be a good game."

Probably with lots of points, too, since each club's offense is ranked first in its conference. Both defenses are near the bottom.

Though Minnesota has allowed just 20 points in its last two games, Kansas City's talented trio of running back Priest Holmes, quarterback Trent Green and tight end Tony Gonzalez should pose problems -- like they do for anyone.

Return man Dante Hall, who's itching for another touchdown since running a punt back for a score Oct. 5 against Denver, always is a threat. Maybe more so this week with the Vikings breaking in a new punter, Leo Araguz.

"I should have been returning three or four more by now than I have this year," Hall said. "I like my chances everywhere, regardless of the coverage. Every week we have the mindset we can get one."

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