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Vikings struggling to stop the slide

This was supposed to be easy part of schedule

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — This was supposed to be the easy part of Minnesota’s schedule.

Instead, the Vikings — still searching for a way to consistently move the ball and now struggling to keep opponents from throwing it against them — are stuck in a midseason mess.

"It’s getting late in the season to be talking about scheme, what you can do and what you can’t do," receiver Travis Taylor said. "It’s going on week 11, so we’ve got to make some things start happening. The season’s getting short."

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By losing at San Francisco and at home to Green Bay, Minnesota (4-5) has provided more unnecessary evidence of the danger of assuming teams with bad records should be beaten in today’s NFL. Despite a lopsided loss to New England, it appeared the Vikings were set up for a momentum-building month with four foes who began November with seven victories between them.

The 49ers had won only twice and allowed the most points in the league, but Minnesota stumbled back home with a 9-3 defeat. After dropping a 23-17 decision to Green Bay on Sunday, the Vikings visit Miami and host Arizona to finish the month.

The Dolphins have won two in a row, though, and given Minnesota’s continued offensive struggles and sinking defense against the pass, there certainly aren’t any sure wins left — especially in this league.

"Usually playoff teams do step up around the months of November and December," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "They usually get something going then. Right now, we’re just kind of average."

The Vikings finally scored a couple of touchdowns, but they cost themselves again with critical penalties and two turnovers that turned into 10 points for the Packers. They’re 25th in the NFL in scoring, at 16.3 points per game, and the offense has reached the end zone only nine times.

Coach Brad Childress, whose conservative play calling has frustrated fans and even prompted some criticism from Winfield last week, was upset by the lack of effective communication on the offensive line.

Though it was apparent Minnesota would be short on reliable receivers this season, the line was not expected to be an area of concern. But quarterback Brad Johnson was under heavy pressure throughout most of Sunday’s game, and the front five clearly has not been consistent.

Untimely penalties and a negative turnover differential, now at minus-four, have been persistent problems this year. Lately, technique has also been an issue — whether it’s a lineman making the wrong move on his blocking assignment or a cornerback making a mistake in coverage by lining up a yard too deep.

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Though New England’s Tom Brady and Green Bay’s Brett Favre are seasoned, well-decorated quarterbacks, the Vikings have failed to slow the pass in two of their last three games.

Safety Dwight Smith acknowledged that the group was worrying too much about a lack of scoring support from the offense, which might have diverted the focus.

"We have to stop worrying so much about what’s going on on the other side of the ball and get back to detailing our work," said Smith, who won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay after the 2002 season with a stout defense and an offense that didn’t get going until the end of the season. The key for that team, Smith recalled, was believing it could win each game solely by dominating on defense.

"If they don’t move the ball or get a three-and-out, then we have to go right back. We can’t run out there with our head hanging down," Smith said.

The motivation for Minnesota comes with a wide-open NFC, where no second-place teams are currently better than 5-4. That means the Vikings are only one game out of a wild-card spot.

"I believe we still can make the playoffs," Smith said. "I still believe we’re a good team, but time will tell."

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