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Playoff run brings out Vikings' humorous side

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Something about winning brings out the amateur comedian in everybody, even a deadly serious coach like Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Something about winning brings out the amateur comedian in everybody, even a deadly serious coach like Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are on a five-game winning streak and looking like a playoff team. Childress, whose relationship with reporters, staff members and some players often has been strained, offered a quip from the Steven Wright deadpan school Wednesday.

Asked at a news conference about the origin of one of his favorite sayings, Childress looked the questioner in the eyes and, with no trace of a smile, said, "It actually came to me in a vision."

The absurdity broke up the room.

Later, in a Vikings locker room that was buzzing with activity, fullback Tony Richardson joined in the merriment. Richardson, one of seven Vikings named to the Pro Bowl (six are starters), revealed what will await the rookie Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson in Hawaii. Protocol requires rookies to pick up all tabs when veterans go out, and Richardson joked about leaving his cash and credit cards at home. "Those are the type of things, hopefully, we'll be talking about after the Super Bowl," Richardson said.


Six weeks ago, when Green Bay laid a 35-0 drubbing on the Vikings at Lambeau Field, the chances of Minnesota playing a meaningful December game seemed as likely as the bald Childress donning a fright wig. Although the electrifying Peterson led the league in rushing, and the Pro Bowl tackles Kevin and Pat Williams (the so-called Williams Wall) anchored the league's best run defense, the Vikings were 3-6 and going nowhere.

Angry fans demanded Childress bench the inconsistent second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, his handpicked project. Some called for Childress to be fired. At the same time, the Vikings lost cornerback Antoine Winfield, their best tackler, with a nagging hamstring strain. And Peterson, one week after rushing for an NFL-record 296 yards against San Diego, tore a knee ligament in Green Bay.

But thanks to an increasingly successful blitz, fewer penalties, improvement by Jackson and the wide receivers and a favorable schedule, the Vikings started winning. Now Minnesota can clinch a wild-card berth Sunday if New Orleans loses to Philadelphia and the Vikings beat Washington that night at home.

"For the most part, you've seen an increased level of confidence with this group," outside linebacker Ben Leber said. "I wouldn't say we have a swagger, but we're definitely stepping a little more prouder than coming off the Green Bay loss. It was a big reality check for us after that game, and we really stepped up. I'm happy the way the locker room responded."

The offense is finally catching up with an opportunistic defense that has scored eight touchdowns this season and an NFL-best 13 the past two seasons. The Vikings, who lead the league in rushing, have averaged 31.8 points during their winning streak, better than any team over that stretch except New England (33.6) and the Packers (33.2).

Meanwhile, the defense has held opponents to 13.8 points and 52.8 rushing yards a game. "These guys are giving up three yards a rush," Washington coach Joe Gibbs said Wednesday in a news conference. "That doesn't happen up here."

The defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier called more blitzes, particularly against young quarterbacks, to take pressure off the frequently victimized secondary.

"Look what our safeties are doing now and our secondary is doing now," Leber said. "They're jelling with our linebacker movement better, disguising blitzes and coverages better.


"There are times we're watching film and we don't quite know what we're running yet, because of the way the safeties are disguising things until the ball's snapped. Then we say, OK, we're single safety or three deep or whatever."

Two off-field incidents - defensive end Ray Edwards' four-game suspension for violating the league's substance policy, and safety Dwight Smith's citation last week for the suspected smoking of marijuana outside a strip club - proved inconsequential for a team two years removed from an infamous boat trip on Lake Minnetonka, which resulted in misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct against four players.

The week after the Green Bay debacle, Jackson completed 17 of 22 passes for 171 yards in a 29-22 victory over Oakland. At Giants Stadium the following week, heavy blitzing forced Eli Manning into four interceptions, and the Vikings returned three for touchdowns in a 41-17 rout.

After back-to-back blowouts of Detroit and San Francisco, the Vikings came from 10 points behind on Monday night to beat Chicago 20-13 at the Metrodome. Peterson, playing with a knee brace, ran for two second-half touchdowns as the Vikings overcame Jackson's three interceptions and a lost fumble.

"There were so many people outside this locker room who obviously didn't believe in us, and probably so, based on our record," Richardson said. "But we believed in each other, locked arms and went to work. That's the reason we've been able to climb out of our hole."

And joke around.

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