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Monday, November 29, 2004

The Turning Point

by Josh Fiedler, from

For every playoff team there comes a game that people will later define as "the turning point." It is a game where a certain player stepped up, a seemingly very pivotal play was made, or it was a game that revealed the character for the rest of the season that followed it. On Sunday, against the Jaguars, the Vikings had that game.

It will be labeled as such for Minnesota for a couple of reasons; among them the way that several players either stepped up for the first time or for a couple, the fact that they did so again. For the players who did it the first big time this season, like Kenechi Udeze, the "Adams," and Spencer Johnson, this game should serve as a springboard for the rest of the season to come. For other players who brought their "A" games like Antoine Winfield, Nate Burelson, and Jermaine Wiggins, it was just another day at the office.

On Sunday there were the "Adams" — Goldberg and Haayer - who did a phenomenal job of playing their role very well. The fact that it took until now for these offensive lineman to sport their wears is a good thing. That isn't to say that they were incapable of their level of play on Sunday, rather the players they were substituting for are simply put—very good and very experienced. Toss in yet another impressive performance by Cory Withrow in the absence of Matt Birk and the patchwork quilt known as the Vikings line exceeded any expectations that could have been set for them. Having lost such quality players as Birk, Mike Rosenthal, and Dave Dixon along with Rosenthal's more-than-adequate replacement in Nat Dorsey and its just remarkable that the squad has been left with enough players to field the position. The day's rushing total of 112 yards was nothing to get overly excited about, but considering the adjustments that had to be made both coming into the week as well as on the fly on Sunday made it more admirable.

With the offensive line often being looked at as one unit rather than five individual players, at least some credit should be given to this year's two mainstays: Bryant McKinnie and Chris Liwienski. While these two have both had their games this year, they have been there for every play. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper probably deserves some praise as well for making the adjustments that come along with a line that is trying to get used to working together.

Two defensive linemen also made their presence particularly known on Sunday, too. Both Udeze and Johnson showed that they might have gotten over some of the rookie mistakes and playing time hurdles to prove their reliability. The obvious play to point to was Udeze's forced fumble that fellow lineman, Kevin Williams, scooped up to slam the door shut in the fourth quarter, but in addition to that he regularly was putting pressure on Leftwich. Meanwhile, Johnson saw increased playing time in the absence of Chris Hovan and made the most of it as well. I have heard all season long that several people who get to view Johnson with more day-to-day regularity than myself say that he has impressed. As an undrafted free agent just trying to keep his head above water, Johnson seems to play with both a handsome amount of skill and confidence.

Then there were the guys who just kept on keeping on against the Jags. I know I have sang these three players' praises often, but Burleson, Wiggins, and Winfield continue to surpass my expectations. In a game where Vikings superstar, Randy Moss, returned to the starting lineup, these two guys made sure that they were not going to just take a back seat in the offense. By Wiggins and Burleson continuing their high level of play they made sure that all of the pressure would not immediately be put onto the returning starter.

These two players maximized their opportunities and playing time to give Culpepper and the coaching staff some very legitimate options. Not only that, but their emergence demands opposing coaches' preparation time and that means less time that can be spent on stopping Moss and the rest of the offense. Wiggins' ability to get open and Burleson's near-perfect blocking were keys on Sunday.

Finally, Winfield did what he does best: cover and tackle. I had an interesting conversation before the game on Sunday with one Vikings guru. I said that Winfield is in that 8th-9th best all-around corner in the league-range. The guru placed him just outside of the top 10. Regardless, he's good. Toss in yet another nice special teams tackle with his stop of Jermaine Lewis following the Williams' touchdown and you've got just another day at the office for this guy.

Yes, Sunday will again be looked at as "the game" that went on to define the rest of the season that is to follow. The Vikings should be the favored team in each of their last five games. I am not going to say that the Vikings run the table to close out the season 7-0 (with their previous two victories), but 4-2 or better should be the expectation.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Vikings Downgrade Moss

by Associated Press, from

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings downgraded four players on their injury report Sunday, declaring wide receiver Randy Moss, linebacker Raonall Smith and linebacker Chris Claiborne out for Monday night's game at Indianapolis.

Running back Mewelde Moore was also bumped to doubtful for the matchup with the Colts. None of the four was expected to play anyway, so the announcement was merely a formality.

Moss, who will miss the first game of his NFL career, has a strained right hamstring. He did not make the trip to Indianapolis.

Smith, who would've started in Claiborne's spot, is recovering from a concussion. Claiborne is bothered by a strained left calf, and Moore has been slow to recover from a sprained right ankle.

Moss was hurt shortly before halftime of the Vikings' game at New Orleans on Oct. 17, and he has played just 11 snaps over the last 10 quarters -- with zero catches