Vikings playing for pride Sunday
[size=18px]Vikings playing for pride Sunday [/size]
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - In the middle of December, Sunday's finale between Minnesota and Chicago loomed as a winner-take-all contest for the division crown.
But the Vikings' six-game winning streak ended with consecutive losses, the Bears are already NFC North champions and the Metrodome will not exactly be buzzing for this game.
Thus the aims have changed on each side, with Chicago (11-4) mostly concerned about playing three hours of injury-free football and Minnesota (8-7) now motivated to stay above .500.
"We're not going there to lose," Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "Even if the starters are not playing as much, the second-teamers are going in there to win the game."
Maintaining the league's top defense, in terms of yardage allowed, is important to them, too. They've also got a chance to set a team record for fewest points surrendered - giving up 18 or less to the Vikings would break the 1986 squad's mark of 187.
"We want to finish off the season on a high note. There is a lot to play for," coach Lovie Smith insisted. "We are looking at this game just like every other."
Similar rhetoric came from the other guys this week.
"I love all three of my sisters, Maureen, Sheila and Kitty, but I don't get any thrill by kissing them," said Mike Tice, who isn't sure he'll still be Vikings coach next week. "It has always been said that a tie is like kissing your sister, and 8-8 is a tie to me. I would like to finish with a winning record."
Also of interest to Minnesota is going 5-1 in the division and closing with seven wins in its last nine games, feats far less satisfying than postseason qualification - but certainly better than it could have been following a 2-5 start punctuated by the infamous boat party that eventually produced misdemeanor charges for four players.
Shouldn't be too difficult to conjure up enough energy and desire, especially because it could be the last game in purple for several players. Plus, there's the uncertainty surrounding Tice and his staff.
"We're playing in front of our fans. We're playing an NFC opponent," center Cory Withrow said. "The playoff thing, it hurts, but we're all grown men and we've got to go out and play the game that we love to play and get paid to do."
The Vikings plan to use several young players in expanded roles, including receiver Troy Williamson and running back Ciatrick Fason. They vowed not to turn this into an exhibition game, but it is a good chance to give the rookies an extended look.
Williamson, acquired with the first-round draft pick the Oakland Raiders sent for Randy Moss, has only a handful of long gains among his 360 yards, plus two touchdowns, to count as first-year highlights.
"I wouldn't say frustrating," said Williamson, whose time was limited by injuries, inconsistency and a crowded depth chart. "I'd say more of a learning experience. You just go with it and adjust to it."
He's eager for a chance to be an every-down player, should that come on Sunday.
"I feel like I'm that type of guy," Williamson said. "It just depends on the opportunities."
Rex Grossman, who replaced Kyle Orton at quarterback for the Bears two weeks ago, will return to the stadium where he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee - an injury that ended his 2004 season in the third game.
Having missed most of this year because of a broken left ankle suffered in the preseason, Grossman could use the work. Chicago isn't sure if he should play much at all if Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz can't go on his sprained right ankle.
"It's always a work in progress," Grossman said, "but I feel like I am in a pretty good rhythm. ... I know I can polish up a bunch of things, and this weekend will give me another chance to do that."
Kreutz and Minnesota nose tackle Pat Williams have had a war of words this season, highlighted by Williams calling Kreutz a "joke" and Kreutz labeling Williams a "fat slob."
That's the kind of stuff that's sure to stoke the competition, even in a game that's irrelevant to the NFC standings.
"We wish we were playing for something, but we're playing for pride and that's a big thing in itself," Vikings receiver Koren Robinson said. "Also, just to let 'em know that, hey, if things worked out a little differently, this is what y'all would've got."