The Minnesota Vikings hoped to use their bye week to try and stabilize their defense after its worst performance of the season.
Instead, that unit is embroiled in controversy as it heads into a meeting with a Houston Texans team that’s rolling after a disappointing start.
The Texans go for their fourth straight win Sunday when they visit the Vikings, who could be without two Pro Bowl defensive linemen because of alleged violations of the NFL’s policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.
Citing unidentified sources, Fox Sports reported last week that Vikings tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams have tested positive for a weight-loss diuretic the NFL considers a masking agent for steroids. First-time violations can bring four-game suspensions.
Pat Williams, a 12-year veteran, twice declined to take questions from reporters while the locker room was open after practice Monday. Kevin Williams, who’s started 85 of a possible 87 games since he was drafted in the first round in 2003, did not appear.
Coach Brad Childress did address the issue briefly, saying he expected the Williamses, who are unrelated, to play as the Vikings (3-4) host the Texans (3-4).
“I don’t have any reason to believe they won’t play on Sunday, at all,” Childress said. “Like our players feel, it’s a family. It’s a personal issue, and we’re not going to allow it to be a distraction. Any of it.”
The loss of the two players would be a major blow to Minnesota’s defense. Despite a 48-41 loss to Chicago in their last game Oct. 19, the Vikings rank eighth in the league at 290.1 yards allowed per game and are giving up 70.7 rushing yards a contest, second in the NFL.
The losses could be particularly devastating against a Houston team that’s rebounded stunningly from an 0-4 start.
The Texans outscored Cincinnati 21-0 in the second half of a 35-6 victory last Sunday, giving them the first three-game win streak in a season in franchise history. They’ve won four straight only once, taking their last two games of 2006 and the first two of 2007.
“We’re getting used to winning around here and that’s what we’ve been looking for,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “The morale and confidence in the locker room is up and we’re just looking forward to continuing to do it.”
Despite a franchise-best 8-8 record last year, Houston finished in last place in the NFL’s only division with three 10-win teams. With this year’s AFC South looking wide open behind undefeated Tennessee, however, the Texans haven’t given up on making their first playoff appearance.
“We’re just playing smarter as a team,” said Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson, who’s had at least 131 receiving yards in each of his last four games. “It just seems like everything is working out for us.”
Defensive end Mario Williams said Houston’s recent play is what he expected from the beginning.
“(The slow start) was devastating because we definitely should have won some more games there,” he said. “But to win three in a row, I know it seems like a shock to everybody else out there in the community and people who watch the Texans, but it shouldn’t be. To me it’s just playing ball and it should be like that.”
Williams helped the Houston defense put together its best performance of the season last week. The Texans held an opponent to a single-digit point total for the first time since last season’s opener and allowing a season-low 253 yards.
The defense will again be put to the test against the Vikings, who totaled a season-high 439 yards in the loss to the Bears. Though he threw four interceptions, Gus Frerotte was 25-for-40 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Adrian Peterson, second in the league with 684 rushing yards, ran 22 times for 121 yards and two TDs.
The strong offensive performance wasn’t enough because of Minnesota’s defensive problems in that game, but the Vikings could have some help on the way Sunday. Offseason acquisition Madieu Williams could return to the field to make his long-awaited Vikings debut after signing a six-year deal worth as much as $33 million on the first day of free agency.
Williams, one of the highest-paid safeties in the league, developed a nerve problem in his neck in early August and has needed nearly three months to get back on the field. It’s uncertain how much he’ll play should he return Sunday.
“Whatever role I’m asked to fulfill, whether it’s starting or coming off the sideline, I’m willing to contribute,” he said. “I guess it’s one of those things we’ll have to wait and see.”
The Vikings won their only previous game against the Texans 34-28 in overtime on Oct. 10, 2004.