A lot of little things were eating at coach Mike Tice all last week, in the wake of a brutal 29-point loss at Cincinnati that left his Vikings 0-2 and searching for a way to save their season. The rejiggered coaching staff wasn't yet in sync, the play of the offensive line was awful and Daunte Culpepper had eight interceptions in eight quarters. But what bothered Tice the most was the lack of a we're-mad-as-hell chippiness in practices leading up to Sunday's home game against the Saints.
So last Saturday night, on one of the first pages of his PowerPoint presentation in a team meeting, Tice tried to inject the sense of urgency that was missing from his team by using these five words:
GET PISSED OFF!
"He got into us pretty good," one defensive player said later of Tice's rant. "He broke a couple of things."
"Only one thing," Tice insisted. "One of those white erase boards."
It would be a stretch to say that the Vikings, suitably inspired, then rose up to save their season and take the heat off their beleaguered coach. Though Minnesota stormed to a 24-0 second-quarter lead, amassed 420 yards and forced four turnovers in a 33-16 rout of road-weary New Orleans at the Metrodome, there's still plenty wrong with the Vikings--mostly on the offensive line--as they head into a tough game in Atlanta this Sunday.
The best thing about the win over the Saints was Culpepper's proving that he can make the passing game work without Randy Moss, his favorite target until the wideout was traded to the Raiders in the off-season. Culpepper completed 21 of 29 passes for 300 yards and no interceptions, hooking up with eight receivers. Without a focused, confident and prolific Culpepper, the Vikings are cooked. They might win the horrid NFC North (after three weeks the division's four teams were a combined 3-8), but they won't go anywhere in the postseason unless the passing game takes off. That's because the rushing attack is mediocre. Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is out for the year (hip surgery), and his backup, Cory Withrow, is struggling. So is rookie right guard Marcus Johnson. The cave-ins along the line make it hard to run the ball well.
There was another sign from Culpepper that his coach needed to see. Before the game Tice had told Culpepper that he liked the quarterback draw as a play deep in the red zone, perhaps at the four- or five-yard line with the Saints defense spread on a probable passing down. Midway through the fourth quarter Minnesota had third-and-six at the Saints' nine, so Tice didn't call the draw but a pass play instead. Culpepper was sacked and went to the sideline fuming because Tice didn't have enough faith in him to run the draw from the nine.
"Wasn't the right time for it," Tice told his quarterback. "Yardage was too long."