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Another Loss Could Cost Vikings Playoffs

December 24, 2003

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) _ The only reason the Minnesota Vikings enter the regular season’s final week with victory necessary is their frightening inability to beat bad teams.

It’s only fitting, then, that the Vikings must defeat one of the NFL’s worst clubs Sunday to assure themselves a playoff berth. Other teams, of course, could put Minnesota in the postseason by losing, but the division title that appeared clinched in late October still isn’t.

For that, the Vikings have their poor performances against the league’s lower class to thank having lost to the Giants, Chargers and Raiders, who have a combined record of 11-34. On the other hand, Minnesota hasn’t been that hot either _ it’s 3-6 after a 6-0 start.

Now comes a game at Arizona against a Cardinals club that’s 3-12 and hasn’t won since Nov. 2. But all three of Arizona’s wins are at home, where it’s only been blown out once _ a 38-0 defeat by Seattle in the opener.

``We’ve got to turn the tables,″ owner Red McCombs said Wednesday.

Though the only way they can be beaten out by Green Bay (9-6) in the NFC North is if the Packers defeat Denver and they fall to Arizona, the Vikings desperately want to host a first-round game at the Metrodome. They are 6-2 there and 3-4 on the road and also have lost 14 of the last 15 games they have played outdoors.

They even can miss the playoffs for the third straight season by losing to the Cardinals while the Packers and Seahawks win.

``If we take care of business we’ll be division champs,″ coach Mike Tice said, ``and if we don’t, then we blew it again.″

After last Saturday’s 45-20 win over Kansas City, Tice immediately began talking about Arizona and asked what its record was _ though he undoubtedly already knew.

Told that it wasn’t good, Tice said, ``Oh, great,″ without a hint of sarcasm.

He even joked the next day that he was going to have Sid Pillai, an administrative assistant to the coaching staff, reverse the Cardinals’ record on all printed material being distributed this week to the team.

``Hopefully some of our guys aren’t very worldly and they don’t follow the league,″ Tice said.

So how can this team manage to beat the Chiefs (12-3), Denver (10-5), Seattle (9-6) and win at Green Bay but play poorly against the Giants, Chargers and Raiders?

``It’s a testament to the character of this team that we play our best against the toughest teams,″ free safety Brian Russell said. ``I can’t tell you why. We have our letdowns, but we come to play when we need to.″

Maybe that’s the key _ motivation. Even if Arizona was 0-15, the Vikings would have no problem getting up for this one with playoff seeding on the line.

``We put ourselves in this position, so we can’t blame anybody but ourselves,″ quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. ``Our main goal was to get the division title ... there’s no other place we’d rather be right now than having a chance to do that this week.″

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