After a stunning six-game winning streak lifted the Minnesota Vikings into playoff contention, a lackluster home defeat has left them needing to win out, and get help, to make the postseason.
The Vikings try to get the first victory they need when they take on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Minnesota looked lifeless last week as the Pittsburgh Steelers ended their win streak with an 18-3 victory. The Vikings’ run has been remarkable after the team’s scandal-ridden 2-5 start, but the costly loss could eventually prevent them from capping their turnaround with a playoff berth.
Minnesota’s desperate situation has it pulling for NFC North archrival Green Bay to beat division-leading Chicago this week. If that happens, the Vikings and Bears would finish the regular season with a division title game at the Metrodome on New Year’s Day.
If the Bears defeat the Packers, they would clinch the division, meaning Minnesota would need win out and have losses by Washington, Dallas and Atlanta to even have a shot at the final wild-card spot.
After breaking down the myriad scenarios for his team Monday, Vikings coach Mike Tice went about the business of keeping his players focused on what they can control.
“It all starts with us winning a game against Baltimore,” Tice said. “Because all the scenarios you can paint, and all the pictures you can paint, will not be completed unless we win a game against Baltimore.”
For that to happen, the Minnesota offense will have to bounce back from last week’s performance. The Vikings managed only 185 yards, including 25 in the second half, and three points on four trips in the red zone.
Brad Johnson went 16-for-30 for 143 yards, including a woeful 2-for-9, 9-yard output after halftime.
“Twenty-five yards in the second half in the National Football League is not going to win a lot of games for you, quite honestly,” Tice said Monday. “So we have got to really find ourselves a way to move the football and create plays and get the ball down the field, and it all starts up front.”
Getting the offense back on track will be difficult against the Ravens, who despite their 5-9 record own the NFL’s sixth-ranked defense, allowing 290.1 yards per game.
The Vikings will also need their defense to step up, considering Baltimore is coming off a 48-3 home rout of the Packers in the most lopsided victory in Monday Night Football history.
The Ravens, winners of two of their last three, were especially pleased with quarterback Kyle Boller’s performance.
After throwing two interceptions in the red zone and committing a fumble in a Dec. 11 loss at Denver, Boller rebounded to pass for 253 yards and three touchdowns Monday night. He set career highs by completing 70.4 percent of his throws (19-of-27) and posting a 136.8 rating.
“I’m going to keep working. I’m going to keep trying to get better,” Boller said. “My teammates have been behind me through everything. That’s what really has kept me going.”
Boller will be facing an opportunistic Vikings defense that ranks among the league leaders in takeaways, including 23 interceptions.
Encouraged by Boller’s performance, Ravens coach Brian Billick is eager to see if his third-year quarterback can build on it.
“It’s another game, another set of data to draw from,” Billick said. “This one obviously very positive; that’s why it’s important he follows it up with another one.
“Kyle stepped up, it was his time to do it. Now, the challenge is to follow up.”