NFC North about to descend on Vikings
NOV 09, 2012 2:59p ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jared Allen wasn't holding back about the importance of the Minnesota Vikings' home game this weekend against the Detroit Lions.
"It's huge; huge," Allen said Friday. "I'd be lying to you if I said it was just another game. It's absolutely not just another game. We've got to play, play well. It's at home and it's in our division. We've got to come out and we got to put up. That's the sense of urgency I feel around here."
Losers of three of the past four games, Minnesota (5-4) has tumbled from a tie atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears a month ago to a situation where a loss Sunday against Detroit (4-4) would mean the Vikings are tied for last place heading into next week's bye.
Few expected Minnesota to be in this situation coming off last year's 3-13 record, and the Vikings insist there is no panic following the recent string of losses. With four consecutive games upcoming against the NFC North and five divisional games in the final seven, Minnesota will be revealed as true contender or just an early-season surprise.
"(This stretch) caught my eye from the very beginning, when we first looked at the schedule in the beginning of the year," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "It's one of those stretches that you know are really going to make or break your season, depending on what kind of situation you put yourself into at the beginning of the season.
"We got off to a great start. Things were looking up for us. Now we're starting to dig ourselves into a hole, but it's not hard for us to get out of right now. It's not too deep, it's not too steep at all. It's just a matter of us fighting and scratching and clawing like we always do and being able to get back up."
Allen feels the sense of urgency throughout the team to reverse the trend. For all the clichés about not overestimating a single game or the constant talk of focusing only on the upcoming game, this week it is especially true for the Vikings.
"It's definitely one of these games, pivotal game of the season, to where you lose this one, you put yourselves far behind the 8-ball with six games left and you're going into a bye on a three-game skid," Allen said. "So, it's an absolute, I don't want to say must-win, but it's one we've got to get."
Sunday's game takes on added significance because the NFC North is shaping up as the best division in the NFL. Falling behind in the standings won't allow much of a chance to play catch-up, even with a division-intensive schedule the last half of the season.
Beginning with North-leading Chicago (7-1), no team in the division is under .500. The NFC North has the most wins of any division in football and the highest point differential. Each of the four teams (Green Bay is 6-3 with four straight wins) owns a positive point differential.
"We are really still in control of our own destiny," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. "We have an opportunity playing at home this weekend where we can right the ship if we approach this week the right way in practice and our preparation. So, the sky's not falling. There's some things we have to get fixed, for sure, to get things going back in the right direction. We were playing tough, smart, aggressive football early on. We got to get back to that, playing physical ball and playing smart. But there's time."
Maybe not much time if the current trend continues for the Vikings. The passing offense has been abysmal recently. The once-proud run defense has been a shell of its former self, and turnovers have been too frequent on offense and too infrequent on defense. Minnesota is minus-7 in turnovers the past four games.
Sunday's loss took Allen back to the depths of last season, when the Vikings lost seven of their last eight games and went winless in the NFC North.
"I'll be honest, after Sunday, I thought it was worse than it was last year," Allen said.
This season has been different though with Minnesota in playoff contention midway through.
"I think, when you're losing so many games like last year, expectations start to slide and all of the sudden you're looking at it like, ‘3-8, let's just win one game,' " Allen said. "Now we're sitting here at 5-4, that playoff picture is a real picture. You're trying to position yourself here in November, December to put yourself in the right position to get into the tournament. We have that opportunity."
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