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Updated: November 7th, 2010 10:09pm
Pelissero: Vikings save Childress (for now) by playing for themselves

Pelissero: Vikings save Childress (for now) by playing for themselves

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The first "Fire Childress!" chant broke out with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first quarter on Sunday, when the Minnesota Vikings' coach wisely passed on trying a fourth-and-1 play from near midfield.

The second erupted with 6:22 left in the second, after Childress again refused to give in to the lure of a fourth-and-1 try and settled for a chip-shot field goal.

The third rose when Vikings safety Husain Abdullah overran receiver Andre Roberts, who spun back for a 30-yard touchdown that put the Arizona Cardinals ahead by four with 27 seconds left in the half.

On and on it went, right up until the Vikings realized they were about to fall to 2-6 against a mediocre team with no quarterback -- then ripped off the Cardinals' wings and scored 17 unanswered to escape 27-24 in overtime before what remained of 64,120 fans at the Metrodome.

Purple sea parts for LaRod Stephens-Howling's 96-yard kick-return touchdown?

Fire Childress!

Percy Harvin's fumble finds Michael Adams in stride for a 30-yard return TD?

Fire Childress!

The scoreboard's wrong, the beer is warm, Abdullah's embarrassed by Roberts' pivot move and rookie Chris Cook fans completely?

"When those guys scored right before the half, it was because of missed tackles," Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson said. "Not to point any guys out, but then you get 'Fire Childress' again. Missed tackles have nothing to do with it."

The Vikings were on the brink of a defeat that would have all but ended their playoff hopes at the season's midpoint -- and it would have been their own (un)doing.

Instead, they won by coming to the blunt realization that playing for something with Childress the next eight weeks would be a hell of a lot better than playing for nothing without him.

"If I was sitting here with a loss, we should all feel like we're sitting here with one foot in the parking lot," quarterback Brett Favre said. "It's easy to point blame at this person or that person. As professional football players ... you have to play for yourself, which ultimately helps the team. To say a coach or a coordinator or my tackle or running back or quarterback is at fault is being a coward. You have to look in the mirror. What can I do to make this team better?"

Favre was as much to blame as anyone for putting the Vikings there -- five losses deep, with reports circulating a sixth would leave Childress out of a job -- and he deserves as much credit as anyone for overcoming what looked like a hopeless situation on Sunday.

Despite finishing with huge advantages in net yardage (507-225), first downs (28-13) and time of possession (38:05-27:13), the Vikings trailed 24-10 with 6:18 to go and had just seen a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line blow up in their faces when the calls for the coach's head echoed again, louder than ever.

"In that situation," receiver Greg Camarillo said, "a team can give up on a season or they can continue to keep fighting. I'm real proud of our guys for keeping fighting. We were down 14 with however many minutes left -- you could easily drop dead and say, 'Man, we're 2-6, this game's over.'"

Over the next 12½ minutes, the defense forced three consecutive Arizona punts and Favre completed his last seven passes for 141 yards, including the 25-yard touchdown tight end Visanthe Shiancoe hauled in behind twisted safety Adrian Wilson to force overtime with 27 seconds to go.

Just like that, "Fire Childress!" turned to "Let's go Vikings!" And as Ryan Longwell's 35-yard winner sailed through the north uprights 5:18 into overtime, a season on the brink of descending into total chaos steadied itself -- if only temporarily -- entering consecutive division tilts against NFC North front-runners Chicago (5-3) and Green Bay (6-3).

"We just started playing for each other, man," Shiancoe said. "That's what it's all about. It's all about the team. It's all about executing. It's all about us whipping ass. We just have to stay focused, not got derailed by nothing, period.

"It's a circus around here all the damn time. We know that, period, end of discussion, but that's the type of outside crap that we deal with a lot. We're used to it."

By no means will one win -- a borderline miracle at that -- make the circus leave town. A loss to the Bears would mean another round of heavy scrutiny on Childress, whose players have taken their frustration with him national through a series of off-the-record blasts in recent days.

Owner Zygi Wilf didn't speak with reporters after the game, and Childress said he's received no assurances about his future. But there was Wilf on Sunday, emotion pouring from beneath his dark suit as he greeted each player outside the locker room with a handshake and the words "great heart."

Five days after the Vikings stunningly waived the ultimate individual player, Randy Moss, their boss watched with pride as his remaining roster waged the ultimate team rally.

"There was every reason why we could have quit and justified it with the crazy week we've had," Longwell said. "We just don't have guys like that in this locker room. You're accountable to yourself and ultimately accountable to your teammates, and that's why guys play hard for each other and with each other."

Almost every veteran repeated some version of that sentiment in the upbeat postgame locker room.

No, they weren't playing for Childress on Sunday. They were playing for each other, and that was good enough to buy themselves and their embattled coach at least one more week of relevance in this ever-strange journey through 2010.

The next step is reducing the fundamental lapses that keep leaving the Vikings in need of a final flourish -- and their coach in need of earplugs to block out blame that keeps landing squarely on his shoulders.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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