Vikings have new coach; Redskins have injuries
The Washington Redskins have no idea what to expect from the Minnesota Vikings' new coach. The Vikings have no idea what to expect from the Redskins' injury-decimated roster.
One thing's for sure: This is one game where energy, gumption and all those other intangibles will be needed to overcome incredible challenges faced by both teams.
Minnesota visits Washington on Sunday, with the Vikings (3-7) hoping a new man in charge will make an embarrassing season at least a little less humiliating. No team with a 3-7 record or worse has made the playoffs, so interim coach Leslie Frazier's main job will be to restore some Purple Pride following the dismissal Monday of Brad Childress.
''Every player in that locker room respects him,'' said Redskins guard Artis Hicks, who joined Washington this season after four years with the Vikings. ''I know there are going to be a lot of guys who want him to have the job next season. They'll play their butts off to reflect that, to show they will rally behind him.''
Frazier, promoted from defensive coordinator, can make but so many tweaks to the game plan in less than a week, so the big difference could be his emotional impact. The Redskins tried a midseason coaching switch 10 years ago, firing Norv Turner and promoting Terry Robiskie, and it didn't work, with Robiskie losing his first two games to knock the team out of the playoff hunt. This year's Dallas Cowboys, however, won their first two games after Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips, then gave the Saints a Thanksgiving scare.
''If everybody's heading in the same direction and on the same page on Sunday,'' Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell said, ''we can be a very dangerous team.''
The Redskins (5-5) rank not far behind the Vikings in the turmoil rankings, with drawn-out dramas over Albert Haynesworth's inclusion in the defense and Donovan McNabb's awkward benching late in a game three weeks ago. Those two story lines have settled down a bit, and the main concern now in the nation's capital is a superabundance of injuries that has coach Mike Shanahan scrambling to put together a healthy lineup good enough to keep the team in the postseason race.
So, as if Minnesota's Frazier didn't have enough to worry about now that he's in charge of Brett Favre, imagine what it's like to look at the opponent's roster and realize the need to scout such unfamiliar names as Keiland Williams, James Davis and Andre Brown - the only three healthy tailbacks on the Redskins.
''You always would like to know where people are going to be,'' Frazier said. ''But that may not be the case. Probably the greatest thing for us right now, considering where we are, is the focus is on us. As much as we've got to have a great plan for the Redskins, we've got to make sure we're right about who we are as a team and what we want to present. That's probably as important as knowing who the Redskins are going to play.''
Running back Clinton Portis is out for the year, and hard-hitting safety LaRon Landry is among seven other would-be starters who are ailing. In much the same way the Vikings hope to rally around Frazier, the Redskins seek to again rally around the understudies who held their own in the overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans last week.
''It got kind of crazy out there,'' said offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger, who had to play both left guard and right guard as various teammates went down. ''After a game like that, we protected well and blocked the run OK, it certainly helps our confidence.''
There will, of course, be two very familiar characters on the field, facing each other perhaps for the last time. McNabb has a 4-2 lead over Favre in career head-to-head meetings between the high-profile quarterbacks, all coming when McNabb was with the Philadelphia Eagles and Favre was with the Green Bay Packers. Both can only hope for a more productive game than their first meeting in 2000, when they combined for four interceptions and were sacked five times apiece in a 6-3 win by Green Bay.
Neither has been sharp this year. The 41-year-old Favre leads the NFL with 17 interceptions and he's on pace for his fewest touchdown passes since he became a starter in 1992. McNabb, who turned 34 on Thanksgiving Day, is already one interception from tying his career high (13) for a season.
Yet both are still capable of dominating a game.
''Donovan is always a dangerous guy,'' said Frazier, who got to know McNabb as an assistant on the Eagles staff. ''I can remember so many times when I was with him in Philadelphia watching him maybe struggle - and then all of a sudden he gets hot and takes over a game. He still is capable of doing it.''
The Redskins are saying the same about Favre.
''You can't look at their record and say it's going to be an easy game,'' cornerback Carlos Rogers said. ''You never know what you're going to get out of Brett.''