Turnover Turnaround Mirrors Winning Streak

Darren Sharper

Turnovers may be the most important statistic in the NFL, and the Vikings are proof of that with their ability to win the turnover game beginning at the same time they started winning football games.

The Vikings closed out a 4-0 November — the fifth time in franchise history the team has gone undefeated in the month — with a victory over Cleveland Sunday at the Metrodome.

If that success is going to be carried into a new month, the Vikings must keep getting excellent play from a defense that appeared inconsistent at best during a 2-5 start.

One of the keys to the turnaround, both for the team and the defense, has been an increased focus on forcing turnovers and getting pressure on quarterbacks.

The trend started during a 27-14 victory over Detroit on Nov. 6 — the Vikings will face the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field — and has been a theme throughout a four-game winning streak that has Minnesota (6-5) above the .500 mark for the first time this season.

During the four-game stretch, the Vikings have 11 interceptions (six by free safety Darren Sharper), four fumble recoveries and 13 sacks. In the first seven games, Minnesota had six picks, four recovered fumbles and 10 sacks.

"It's funny like that with turnovers and sacks," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said. "It seems like when you execute your defense and you're around the ball a lot, they start to happen a lot more often and they come in bunches."

Nonetheless, coach Mike Tice called his team "quite dysfunctional" after the 24-12 victory over the Browns. "We just work hard and find a way to win," he said. "We're not pretty, but we've been kind of pretty in the past before and it hasn't really gotten us anything. I'll take it this way."

Tice has to like his team's chances on Sunday, too. He has never lost to Detroit in seven meetings and is going for his fourth series sweep of the struggling Lions.

As for those Lions, coach Steve Mariucci, the subject of the speculation after the team lost for the fourth time in the past five games, was fired on Monday and Dick Jauron was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach.

At 4-7, it would take something close to a miracle to get the Lions over .500 for the first time since 2000 and into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

For either of those things to happen, the Lions would have to win their remaining five games and, so far this season, they haven't even won two games in a row.

Mariucci had a 15-28 record in his three seasons with the Lions and there were indications the Lions management had become frustrated with Mariucci's stagnant West Coast offense, his refusal to adjust it and his reluctance to give the ball to running back Kevin Jones more than a handful of times in a game.

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