Bye week gives Vikes a chance to fix what's broken

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- About a half-hour after the Vikings' latest loss, Minnesota coach Brad Childress was asked to be specific about his team's problems.

Politely, Childress said he would wait until the next day to share.

It is, after all, a long list.

The Vikings (1-3) have this weekend off, a badly needed break in the schedule after three consecutive excruciating defeats -- by a total of 13 points. For their passionate fan base, which has grown increasingly frustrated with the franchise the past few years, September was a recurring, beat-your-head-against-a-wall nightmare left over from last season's 6-10 finish.

Whether it's because of the coaches and their decisions, the quarterbacks and their inaccuracy, the indistinguishable receivers, the expensive offensive line, or a combination of all of that, this team just hasn't been good enough to get in the end zone.

"Through my experiences, when you're kicking a bunch of field goals you usually lose," quarterback Kelly Holcomb said.

They're not always getting close enough for field goals, either. Ryan Longwell has tried seven of them and made six, with the one miss a last-second 52-yarder that bounced off the upright and kept Minnesota from beating Detroit in a game that was eventually lost in overtime.

Childress, however, has not wavered in his public expressions of confidence. Progress has not been apparent on the field, given the 3-11 record since a 4-2 start to last season, but the coach said he believes the right players are in place to overcome the current problems and start winning after the bye.

"I think they are things that can be fixed," Childress said.

The passing game has been broken since Randy Moss was traded in 2005. Daunte Culpepper had a terrible start that year, tore up his knee and never played for Minnesota again. Brad Johnson was a solid reliever down the stretch, but he was uncharacteristically turnover-prone last season when Childress took over. Johnson gave way to Tarvaris Jackson for the final two games.

Jackson threw one touchdown pass and five interceptions during the first two weeks of this season, then pulled a groin muscle and has missed the last two games. He's expected back next week, but in his second year in the NFL he's still quite raw.

Through all this, 20 games with Childress in charge, the Vikings have yet to pass for more than 270 yards in a game. Jackson has the job, for better or worse, for at least the rest of this year. The Vikings are banking on his competence to throw the ball when he should and hang onto it when he shouldn't.

Two weeks watching on the sideline could help his grasp of the offense. And Jackson, like several other teammates in interviews last Sunday and Monday, was adamant that success with this team is attainable with a tuneup here and a break there.

"We're really close to having that breakout game," Jackson said.

Said Holcomb: "I think it's close. We're just so close."

Added safety Darren Sharper, with a perspective from the defensive side: "I think that we definitely know that we're closer."

So what exactly has to happen for Minnesota to get there? Well, receivers Bobby Wade, Troy Williamson and rookie Sidney Rice have to catch everything that's thrown to them. They must take advantage of frequent man-to-man coverage while defenses stack up to stop running back Adrian Peterson.

And when that happens, as it did in the first quarter against Green Bay last week when Rice beat his man by 5 yards down the sideline, the quarterback can't misfire and cost the team a 70-yard touchdown.

The playcalling, concentration and accuracy must improve inside the opponent's 20-yard line, too. The Vikings have moved the ball relatively well in the middle of the field, but they've stalled for various reasons in that ever-important red zone.

Defensively, though this team is shutting down the run just as well as last season, upgrades can still be made in third-down pass coverage. Teams with sharp quarterbacks that are effective at spreading the ball around through multiple receiver sets, like Favre and the Packers were last week, have found a way to score against Minnesota.

Players scattered about the country, but the coaching staff was scheduled to be at Winter Park through Friday to further examine the first four games and devise a better plan for the next 12.

"This is a good team," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "Once we get together, we'll be all right. We're going to stick together and make it happen."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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