NFL Game of the Week: Rams @ Vikings
Posted on Thu, Dec. 08, 2005
NFL game of the week
BY DAVID MOORE
The Dallas Morning News
St. Louis (5-7) at Minnesota (7-5)
Minnesota should be thanked. The Vikings have provided us with countless hours of entertainment and entertainers with countless punch lines.
Any time you can work sex, boats and Lake Minnetonka into a routine, you've struck comedic gold.
Making fun of the Vikings is easy. But the notion that this team can make the playoffs is no longer a laughing matter.
Minnesota has won five consecutive games with a quarterback as old as Methuselah and an uncharacteristically competitive defense. There are bigger games in the NFL this weekend, but the Vikings' improbable playoff push bears watching.
"Our focus isn't on the wild card," said linebacker Keith Newman, one of four former Buffalo players who have helped transform the Vikings into a respectable defense. "Our focus is to win the NFC North."
Six teams will make the playoffs in the NFC. The Vikings are eighth. The New York Giants are the only team ahead of them that Minnesota has beaten. Losses to Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta hurt the cause.
Catching Chicago, which owns a two-game lead over Minnesota in the division, is the easier playoff road to travel than trying to lock down one of the two wild- card spots.
"You can't let it take over your thinking because you have to concentrate on your next opponent," safety Darren Sharper said. "But in the back of your mind, you are thinking, `If this team loses, hopefully we can gain a game.'
"We always are watching Chicago to see if they have dropped a game or to see who they're playing."
The Bears are at Pittsburgh this weekend, one of three road games remaining for Chicago. The Vikings have three of their final four games at home, where they are 4-1. The Bears face the Vikings in the Metrodome on the final day of the regular season.
The central figure in the Vikings' unexpected rise in the standings is the quarterback.
Brad Johnson's career-winning percentage of .602 is the third best among active quarterbacks, trailing only Green Bay's Brett Favre and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. He has taken three franchises to the playoffs and won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay.
Johnson, 37, hasn't been spectacular since taking over for the injured Daunte Culpepper. That's not his style. But he has been his solid self with eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions.
The veteran quarterback's insistence on checking down and dumping the pass underneath the coverage rather than challenge the defense deep has irritated coach Mike Tice at times. His affinity for the three-step drop and play-action pass has forced revisions in the offense and some struggles for the offensive line. But it's been worth it.
"He never really gets flustered," tight end Jermaine Wiggins said.
"The thing is, we can control our own destiny if we continue to win," Sharper said. "That's something we haven't had around here in a while."
Re: NFL Game of the Week: Rams @ Vikings
St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, Dec. 7, but is listed as probable and expected to play in Week 14. He is likely to only see limited reps Thursday, Dec. 8, as well. If he cannot go, the Rams would get a blast from the past with RB Marshall Faulk stepping in to carry the load.
Vikings RB Michael Bennett (ankle) practiced and is listed as probable for Week 14. Bennett, who dinged his ankle when he slipped on ice, is likely to play. RB Mewelde Moore (ankle) hurt his ankle last week and didn't see any production. He is not on the injury report this week and is likely to remain in the starting lineup.
LB Dexter Coakley, St. Louis Rams - Status: Placed on IR
The Associated Press reports St. Louis Rams LB Dexter Coakley (ankle, leg) will miss the rest of the 2005 season after dislocating his left ankle and breaking his leg during the Week 13 game. Interim head coach Joe Vitt said Coakley would have surgery as soon as Monday, Dec. 5.
Anyone who saw the position of Coakley's leg as he lay on the ground after injuring his ankle knew it was bad. His foot was simply not facing the proper direction - a good indicator that something is broken and/or dislocated (out of joint). Coakley was making a tackle during a running play in Week 13 and was rolled on from behind. Coakley's outer leg bone (fibula) snapped as it broke under the strain and the ligaments on the outside of his ankle were torn. Without the bony and ligamentous integrity preserved, the primary ankle bone (talus) is more easily separated (dislocated) from the leg bones (tibia and fibula), resulting in great pain. Surgery is typically required to stabilize the lower leg once again.
How unfortunate for a player who in his first seven years had only missed one start! The flip side is that without a prior injury history, Coakley's tissues should heal well. He underwent surgery Wednesday, Dec. 7, to have a metal plate inserted, which will assist the bone in repairing itself with a proper alignment. Typical post-operative management includes being casted and non-weight bearing for a few weeks, followed by placement in a walking boot to allow some weight through the ankle. Then begins the long road to restoring range of motion, strength and balance that can take in excess of six months. Unfortunately, the very nature of this type of injury makes Coakley's future uncertain. Post-injury stiffness is a more common complication, potentially making running and cutting difficult. Coakley should be ready to begin testing the ankle around training camp and his ability to return will be better gauged at that time.