There is little doubt the Vikings could be tempted to think that a victory Sunday against Detroit at Ford Field will come easily.
The Lions are 0-12 and, watching their 47-10 loss to Tennessee on Thanksgiving Day, it's pretty clear many players already have checked out on a lost season.
But with his team sitting alone in first place in the NFC North for the first time since he took over in 2006, Vikings coach Brad Childress is well aware of the fact that a letdown could prove fatal against the lowly Lions.
That's why in the moments after the Vikings' 34-14 victory over Chicago on Sunday night — a victory that broke a first-place tie — Childress was stressing the importance of the next game to his players.
The Vikings (7-5) should have no problem taking the Lions seriously.
Detroit gave Minnesota a scare on Oct. 12 at the Metrodome, when the Vikings' 12-10 victory was not assured until Ryan Longwell
made a 26-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
That was the closest game this season for a Lions club that has lost by an average of 15.8 points.
"It can be scary because you know (Detroit is) going to come out fighting," Vikings safety Darren Sharper
said. "That old adage of a dog backed into a corner. It's kind of like that because they are playing at home too, which is going to make them feel more comfortable. They're going to know that we're the first-place team now in the NFC North, and they're going to give us their best shot."
Childress gave his players the day off Monday, and Tuesday is their official off day. "It's just that (the players) come back here while everybody is patting them on the butt and that type of thing, that they realize that anybody beats anybody in this league, and in fact Detroit could have had our measure here at home," Childress said. "So I think that you realize that there are a lot of prideful people in the National Football League, and I don't think those guys on that team want to be attached with not having a win. So that is a different kind of motivation, but nonetheless motivation."
Sharper, though, makes it sound as if the real motivation will be for the Vikings to keep their eye on the prize.
"If we handle and take care of our business, everything is set up for us pretty good," he said. "That's all you can ask for come December. This league is so tough that only a couple teams each year have everything set, like divisions sewn up come the middle of December. A lot of times teams are trying to fight for playoff spots. The fact that we know if we just win and beat the teams that we're supposed to beat, which is every team, hopefully we'll be fine and we'll be where we wanted to be at the beginning of this season. Which is one of our goals, to get to the playoffs and win the NFC North."
QB Gus Frerotte is 7-3 since taking over as the Vikings' starting quarterback in Week 3. Frerotte passed for 210 yards, 99 coming on a touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian, in the Vikings' 34-14 victory over Chicago, ending a four-game stretch in which he failed to reach 200 yards. The last time Frerotte had exceeded the 200-yard plateau was when he threw for a season-high 298 yards in the Vikings' 48-41 loss at Chicago on Oct. 19. Frerotte also threw four interceptions in that game; on Sunday, only one of his 28 attempts was picked off.
RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 131 yards on 28 carries, the third time in four career games against the Bears he has exceeded the 100-yard mark. Peterson has now rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of the Vikings' 12 games this season. He also has taken over the NFL rushing lead (1,311 yards) and has a career total of 2,652 yards. That moves him into 10th place in Vikings history.
RB Chester Taylor fell one short of his season high for rushing attempts as he was handed the ball 10 times and gained 46 yards against the Bears. He also scored on a 21-yard run for his third rushing touchdown of the season. Taylor finished tied for the team lead with four catches Sunday and is third on the Vikings with 33 receptions for 291 yards with a touchdown.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe caught only one pass against the Bears, but it did go for a 20-yard gain in the first quarter. Shiancoe has 27 receptions for 373 yards and four touchdowns this season. That is as many catches as he had all of last season in 16 games — and the Vikings still have four games remaining. Shiancoe already has exceeded his 2007 totals for receiving yards (323) and touchdowns (one).
WR Bernard Berrian ended a three-game touchdown drought in a big way Sunday night. Berrian, playing against his former teammates, caught a 99-yard touchdown pass from Gus Frerotte in the second quarter to give the Vikings a lead they would not relinquish. That makes Frerotte and Berrian only the 11th tandem in NFL history to connect on a 99-yard scoring pass. The play also broke a 46-year-old Vikings record for the longest pass play in franchise history. Berrian's four catches give him 38 on the season, only two off the team lead. His 795 yards receiving leads the Vikings.
WR Bobby Wade caught only one pass on Sunday and now has a team-leading 40 on the season, two more than Bernard Berrian. Wade continues to be used as a possession receiver and remains most comfortable lining up in the slot. He has 423 receiving yards and only one touchdown.
WR Aundrae Allison was inactive for the first time this season as coach Brad Childress decided to suit up veteran Robert Ferguson instead. Allison has only 10 catches for 109 yards this season, and although he was impressive in training camp, at this point he does not have a defined role. He's no longer being used on kickoff or punt returns.
DE Jared Allen, who continues to play despite a grade-3 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder, had three sacks Sunday and now has a team-leading 11 this season. That is the most in a season since Kevin Williams had 11.5 in 2004. It is also only 4.5 fewer than Allen had last season with Kansas City when he led the NFL in sacks.
CB Benny Sapp continues to be used as the nickel back in passing situations. Sapp had an interception against the Bears and now has two on the season, tying him for the team lead with LB Ben Leber, S Madieu Williams and CB Antoine Winfield.
SS Darren Sharper had his first interception this season after a 13-game drought that began late last season. Sharper's pick against the Bears' Kyle Orton in the third quarter at the Metrodome was his first since he intercepted Orton in the same stadium last Dec. 17.
The Vikings need only look back at the Lions' closest game this season to realize that winless Detroit can take down the division leader.
The Vikings need only look back at the Lions' closest game this season for motivation.