Minnesota at Detroit, Week 14
Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Vikings' identity lies in the running game, both offensively and defensively. So, without DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams -- who are trying to block their four-game suspensions for testing positive for a banned diuretic -- is it a gross exaggeration to say they would be half a team?
Well, yeah, though each brick of the Williams Wall made the past two Pro Bowls while anchoring a Vikings run defense that ranked No. 1 in 2006 and '07 and is second through 12 games this season. At any rate, the duo has been so reliable, missing two games between them since joining forces in Minnesota in 2005 and starting every other, that there's no basis for comparison. But there is this: In 2004, before Pat Williams arrived from Buffalo and the Vikings ranked 21st in run defense. Once the Bills lost the mammoth run-stuffer, they dropped to 31st in that category in 2005 after ranking seventh in 2004 and eighth in 2003.
Even before the legal battle for the Williamses began, some saw this game as the Lions' best chance to win this season ("I suppose that reflects on us," Vikings Coach Brad Childress deadpanned to reporters). It likely has something to do with the Lions' challenging closing stretch: Considering they follow the Vikings with a trip to Indianapolis, a home game vs. the Saints and a closing trip to Lambeau Field to face the Packers, and considering every NFL team in history playing a 16-game season has managed to avoid going winless, they have to have a shot to beat somebody, right? It's also because, as Childress dryly indicated, the Lions came as close as they have to a win all season at Minnesota on Oct. 12. Detroit lost, 12-10, the margin coming on QB Dan Orlovsky's infamous safety when he unwittingly ran out of the back of the end zone.
The Vikings have been a stronger team recently, however, winning four of their last to take the NFC North lead. In their last two games, they outscored the Bears and Vikings by a combined 64-26. RB Adrian Peterson has 627 rushing yards in the past five games to increase his total to an NFL-high 1,311 games.
Still, for the first time all season, Lions Coach Rod Marinelli has addressed the prospect of avoiding dubious history, according to his players. RB Aveion Cason told reporters that in the first team meeting after falling to 0-12, Marinelli "said, 'We're not going 0-16.'."
Cason, coincidentally, is one of two current Lions with a unique perspective on being tied for the worst start in franchise history. He was on the last Lions team to start 0-12, in 2001. Minnesota -- led by QB Daunte Culpepper, who will start Sunday for the Lions -- came to town for Game 13. The Lions won.
"It felt like winning the Super Bowl," Cason said.
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