Bobby Wade (Harry How/Getty)
The Packers have dominated the Vikings in the Brad Childress era, but the Vikings’ players seem determined to try to change that Sunday. Plus, see what Ray Edwards has been doing lately and the increased confidence the Vikings are showing in QB Gus Frerotte.
If repetition of a question throughout the week wears on players, then consider the Vikings weary of a couple of topics: The severity of Jared Allen’s shoulder injury and the Viking’ record against the Packers since Brad Childress and Mike McCarthy took over as head coaches of the respective teams.
In case you didn’t hear, the Vikings are 0-5 in that timeframe. In case the players didn’t know that before this week, they do now.
“This is a serious rivalry. Guys really get geared up for this game, obviously being in the NFC North. Not only that, but just the history with this past offseason and the Green Bay Packers and what’s been going on,” said receiver Bobby Wade, referring to the tampering charges the Packers wage against the Vikings for talking to Brett Favre when the quarterback was still officially the property of the Packers. “The guys are excited to be able to play and hopefully we’ll be able to get it done.”
The Vikings were exonerated of those tampering charges by the league, but offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell let it be known that he didn’t even talk to Favre, his close friend, this week as the Vikings prepare to play the Packers while Favre is now a member of the New York Jets.
No doubt those very public allegations by the Packers increased the intensity of the rivalry.
“I think just where we’re at ramps it up. Everybody in this division, especially Chicago, Green Bay, us, knowing how close it’s going to be going down to the wire, knowing how important these heads-up games are, knowing how they are going to weigh in later during the season, I think that’s the biggest deal,” Wade said. “I think guys understand that, especially the guys that have played long enough and know where we’re at and what we need to do.”
The Vikings and Packers are both 4-4, and each is a game behind the division-leading Chicago Bears.
“We’ve just got to have this game. … We’ve got to win this game and everybody focus,” defensive tackle Pat Williams said. “It will only be a play here or a play there. That’s the NFL. It’s always a play here or a play there. If you don’t make that play or you do make that play, that’s the game.”
Packers wide receiver Donald Driver referred to a long-held NFL axiom.
“The team that makes the least mistakes is going to always win,” Driver said. “Every time we play them we always seem to make the big plays and then also make the least mistakes. So we are hoping that we will be able to do that this weekend.”
That was especially true in the season opener, when Will Blackmon returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 17-6 third-quarter lead in what became a 24-19 win for Green Bay.
“The first time we saw them in the Monday night game, there were a lot of emotions involved in that game,” said Wade, who believes the 0-5 record can create extra incentive for the Vikings. “It gives a lot of motivation. You definitely know the history – there is no doubt about it.”
Defensive tackle Pat Williams said the five-game losing streak to the Packers bothers the players more than Childress.
“It bothers us more. I don’t think it bothers coach more. It’s all us,” he said. “Everybody’s got their mind that we’ve got to have this game no matter what. It doesn’t matter if it’s Green Bay, the Bears, Detroit – we’ve got to have this game.”
THE OTHER END
While much of the focus this week was on Allen and will he play or won’t he, there is another defensive end for the Vikings that is starting to come on strong midway through the season.
Left defensive end Ray Edwards was originally credited with nine tackles in the game summary, but coaches gave him an incredible 12 tackles, a staggering single-game total for a defensive end.
“I think that might be the best game of my career in the NFL, so definitely just being around the ball and having fun,” Edwards said.
The top three tackle totals in Vikings history all belong to linebacker Rip Hawkins – with two 18-tackle games in 1962 and one 17-tackle performance in 1961.
Edwards is third on the team with 16 quarterback hurries and got his first full sack of the season against the Texans. Edwards said in the offseason that his goal was to break the NFL record of 22½ sacks in a season, a mark held by retired DE Michael Strahan. Despite being 21 sacks away from tying the record, Edwards was just glad to get his first full one.
“Definitely got the monkey off my back,” he said.
It’s been a physical struggle for Edwards this season. He started training camp with back problems and has been battling a right knee injury of late.
“I had a banged-up back at the beginning of the year coming into training camp and things piled up. It’s just part of the game and you’ve got to just keep pushing. I thrive off adversity because that’s where I come from,” he said, downplaying the knee injury that has him wearing a brace but hasn’t affected his ability to practice throughout the week.
His challenge this week will come against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who surprised Edwards in the season opener.
“He was definitely better than I thought. He was a first-round draft pick. When a guy goes that high, he’s definitely seen as a valuable guy. He proved it,” Edwards said.
“Rodgers doesn’t act like a young quarterback. He comes out there with a strut like most quarterbacks do when they know they’re good, and he just performs at his top game all the time. … He’s reading defense better now that it’s later in the season.”
IN GUS THEY TRUST
Childress seems to be indicating more confidence in Gus Frerotte and accepting more input from the 15-year veteran quarterback.
“He’s impressed me from the standpoint of (he’s) pretty much unflappable. He still has a passion, still has the physical tools. He’s a very good leader in the huddle, in the locker room, in the meeting room. He’s an impressive guy.”
“He’s the guy, the straw that stirs the drink. So he’s got to know how a guy’s got to get somewhere if you’re shifting somebody.”
Childress said Frerotte can talk about plays in their totality and explain not only which plays he likes but why he likes them and where they might be best used.
“You can’t just pull it out of your rear end. You have you to know it forward, backwards, sideways, so if the wheels fall off, what’s the quarterback’s answer,” Childress said.
Since 2000, 20 teams have reached the halfway point of the season with a winning percentage of .500 or below and proceeded to the playoffs. The Vikings are currently 4-4 and hoping to add to that list.
In fact, the 2001 New England Patriots started at 4-4 and won seven of their final eight games en route to an 11-5 regular season and the team’s first Super Bowl championship.
Another interesting tidbit from the NFL is that in 2002, half of the playoff field of 12 teams consisted of clubs that started at 4-4 or below, including five of the six AFC participants. One of those 2002 teams was the New York Jets, who are the only team among the 20 that had a 3-5 record at the halfway point and still made the playoffs.
Half of those 20 teams also lost their first Wild Card playoff game.
Green Bay has a 48-24 record in November and December since 2000, fourth-best in the league in the final two months of the season in the last eight years.