EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The shock of the Cleveland Browns starting their third-string quarterback and a running back that hasn’t had a carry this season will eventually fade and the Minnesota Vikings will be facing as near a must-win as they come on Sunday.
Minnesota is 0-2 after Sunday’s loss in the final seconds to the Chicago Bears. Losing two road games against NFC North opponents wouldn’t always be a reason for panic, but the losses are magnified coming at the beginning of the season.
The Vikings have a chance to right their ship with the schedule ahead. Minnesota hosts Cleveland, which traded running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday and is without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden because of a sprained right thumb, on Sunday in the first home game of the season.
A neutral-site game follows in London the next week with the Vikings serving as the home team against the 0-2 Pittsburgh Steelers. After a bye week, Minnesota hosts the Carolina Panthers and play on the road against the New York Giants. Entering Week 3, the Vikings’ next four opponents are a combined 0-8 with a minus-13 turnover differential.
“The fact that we’re playing at home, that means a lot to our players,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s our home opener and we know the importance of winning games at home. That’s what we talked about this morning, they sense that. They also know the fact that there is a game or two separating everybody in our conference right now. So this is a great opportunity for us at home to get on track, get on a winning track. That part of it, they’re well aware of but more important, home opener. You’ve got to take care of business at home.”
The popular stats thrown out this week are about the unlikelihood of 0-2 teams making the playoffs. No 0-2 has made the playoffs the past four seasons. Since 1990, only 11.6 percent of playoff teams started 0-2.
The realization of their situation has hit the Vikings’ players. Minnesota knows what it takes to recover from an 0-2 hole. Along with Miami and San Diego in 2008, the Vikings are the last team to make the playoffs after starting 0-2.
“It’s still early in the season but at the same time this is a very, very important football game for us,” Frazier said. “We are working as hard as we can to be a team that’s going to be a factor over the course of the year. We need to get off to a good start at home. Our players realize that.”
Minnesota has the schedule to gain some momentum. The Vikings were 7-1 at the Metrodome while earning their playoff appearance last season. They were 3-5 on the road, including a 1-2 mark on the road in the division.
“We’re going to use this home-field advantage to the best of what we can do,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “It’s a huge advantage for us; our fans get so loud. As an offense that’s played two games on the road in pretty loud places it gets hard to operate. We’re excited for that and we look to improve our record. We want to be, in the first quarter, to be even, to be 2-2. But it starts with Cleveland, we’re solely focused on Cleveland now.”
Bishop should see more time: Linebacker Desmond Bishop saw only two snaps in Sunday’s loss at Chicago after not playing at all against Detroit. Marvin Mitchell remains the team’s starter on the weakside when the team is in its base 4-3 defense. Mitchell played 25 of the 67 defensive snaps on Sunday.
Frazier said Bishop will gradually see more time.
“We wanted to make sure he got some game snaps and we wanted to get him a series,” Frazier said of last week’s game. “It just turned out they ended up going to three-wide sets so we cut it short as far as our base defense. But this week we want to get him a few more snaps, some more time on the field and see what he does with that.
“He seems to be much more comfortable in our defense now than a few weeks ago. We’re going to continue to give him reps in practice so he can continue to get that comfort level he needs to play fast.”
Ellison out with knee injury: The only player missing from practice on Wednesday was third-string tight end Rhett Ellison. Ellison suffered a hyperextension of his right knee in Sunday’s loss.
Frazier said there are no long-term concerns with Ellison’s injury and called him day-to-day.
“We’re going to hold him back and give his knee a little more time to heal and just see how he does tomorrow as well,” Frazier said. “We should have full participation by just about everyone else so we’re a relatively healthy football team.”
Defensive tackle Fred Evans (shoulder), linebacker Erin Henderson (heel), safety Harrison Smith (shoulder), center John Sullivan (knee) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee) were listed as limited on Wednesday as Minnesota returned to practice.
Guard Brandon Fusco (shoulder), tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) and safety Mistral Raymond (shoulder) were listed as full participants.