Pelissero: Ready or not, Vikings have a chance after righting woes
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings gave themselves a chance on Sunday.
Their upcoming stretch against the NFC North Division's front-runners means something now, thanks to a 34-24, series-sweeping win over Detroit they grabbed from the get-go.
"The most important thing was going into the bye 6-4, and guys bought into it," halfback Adrian Peterson said.
"We knew it was going to be a fight, and ultimately, we accomplished that. We get a week to relax, come back, and we have a lot of divisional games coming up and we are going to test our will to just see how bad we want it."
The Vikings succeeded in that regard on Sunday, when another flop like the ones they had against Tampa Bay and Seattle might have been the deathblow to their upstart psyche.
Instead, the two-game skid is over, the calls for Christian Ponder's head quieted, and the upcoming bye week is a chance to heal up, not pack up, as it proved to be one year ago.
Rebuilding or not, the Vikings are in the thick of the NFC playoff chase as they take a break before playing three in a row against two teams that figure to be playing in January.
"We've played some really, really good football and we've played some really bad football," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We know that really good football will get us will get us to where we wanted to go to, earlier than everybody thought.
"If we can play that way -- just say, 'You know what? Nobody gives a (expletive) about us' -- if we just go play and do our thing, we're going to be fine."
It remains to be seen whether they're equipped to beat the Bears (7-2) in Chicago on Nov. 25, the Packers (6-3) in Green Bay on Dec. 2 or the Bears here on Dec. 9.
Winning even one of those games would give the Vikings a chance to prolong their presence in a wild-card chase that at this point looks like a race to 9-7.
Coach Leslie Frazier didn't talk about that during this past week, though. His only message was this was a game -- at home, in the division -- the Vikings couldn't afford to lose.
"You go on a three-game skid into a bye, I don't know if guys come back so focused," end Jared Allen said. "I'll be honest, I've been in this league a long time -- I don't know if I'd come back so focused, because you're like, 'Jeez,' and then now you have a whole week to sit there and wonder what if and then you start questioning things. ...
"It was a tough week around our spot, especially after getting drummed two weeks in a row. But to come back and answer the way we did and play in a dominant fashion really, I think, boosts guys' confidence. Now, people kind of look at it -- 'All right, there's light at the end of the tunnel.'"
They found it on Sunday by correcting several of their most glaring issues in their type of game -- getting a lead, running the football, avoiding turnovers and playing sound, opportunistic defense while limiting big plays.
Ponder snapped out of his slump early, connecting with rookie receiver Jarius Wright for 54 yards on his second pass and again two plays later for a 3-yard touchdown. Greenway intercepted Matthew Stafford on the next series to set up a field goal and make it 10-0.
"At this point, I think we've all realized in this locker room that we have nothing to lose," Greenway said. "And we've got to play that way. I think we've got to coach that way."
When Brandon Pettigrew beat Harrison Smith for a 16-yard touchdown catch that cut the Vikings' lead to 16-10 late in the third quarter, Ponder spurred the next drive by completing 5 of 6 passes, including a 20-yard score to Kyle Rudolph.
When Titus Young's 1-yard touchdown catch capped another long Lions drive with 11 minutes, 32 seconds to go and the Vikings offense went three-and-out, the defense got a crucial stop, with Greenway drawing a holding penalty on Lions left tackle Jeff Backus.
Peterson's next two carries went for 80 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown on a perfectly blocked lead play. Moments later, Jamarca Sanford stripped star receiver Calvin Johnson and Antoine Winfield recovered to all but seal the decision.
"Guys that were supposed to make plays were making plays," Allen said. "We expect Chad to do that. We expect Antoine to play like that. We expect Kevin to play like that. There's got to be plays within the game that turn the tide."
Ponder went through his progressions, cut it loose and completed 74.2% of his passes (23-of-31) for 236 yards to nine receivers, plus a batted ball he caught himself for a 15-yard loss.
Rudolph caught seven passes for 64 yards. Peterson finished with 171 yards on 27 carries (6.3 average), leaving Lions end Kyle Vanden Bosch to say he might be "the most dangerous player in the league right now."
Greenway and Winfield led the defensive charge that mostly contained everyone but Johnson, who racked up 207 yards on 12 catches, including an 11-yard score after the game was decided.
Lions halfback Mikel Leshoure finished with just 43 yards on his 13 carries, snapping a four-game streak of 100-yard rushers against a Vikings defense that is a wreck if it can't stop the run.
"We needed to get the turnovers, not give the ball away, and then be able to stop the ball on defense and, of course, still be able to run the ball on offense," Frazier said.
"We also talked about completing passes against eight-man fronts -- not knocking our head against the wall all the time and trying to run against eight-man fronts. Let's get the ball down the field. We were able to get that done."
Even when Vikings defensive tackle Christian Ballard made what could have been a game-changing error, fumbling the pooch kick after Pettigrew's touchdown, he fell on the ball himself. Those sorts of breaks can go a long way.
The Vikings are 1-4 when they lose the turnover battle and 5-0 when they don't. Their next opponent entered the weekend with the NFL's best turnover margin (plus-16) and hasn't lost to the Vikings at Soldier Field since 2007.
They still get Green Bay again in the finale, after visiting St. Louis (3-5-1) and Houston (8-1). Ready or not, the Vikings have put themselves in position to have a chance -- and their fate is in their own hands.
"Hey, they're not going to stop the games for us if we weren't, but I think we're ready," Allen said. "If we play the way we know we can play, we can play with anybody. I think our formula is run the ball, protect the ball and then get after people on defense.
"I know that sounds easy. But you look at what Chicago does. Chicago plays tough defense and they don't the ball over very often and they get turnovers. I'm excited for it. Another division game, in Chicago. I haven't won there yet. ...
"We worked hard to fix some things last week, and for it to come out and pay off gives guys that confidence to go rest up, come back, get back into a game plan and say, 'All right, let's go to Chicago and we're still right where we need to be.'"