Vikings often fall behind, but usually finish in front

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

January 16, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

If the Minnesota Vikings fall behind in the first quarter against the St. Louis Rams today, they're not going to panic.

Slow starts have been their trademark under quarterback Jeff George.

In his 11 starts, they scored 24 points in the first quarter and have trailed seven times.

Yet, they've won nine of those games going into today's divisional playoff game.

"I really don't have a reason for it," George said. "All I can say is you have to give credit to the defenses. I say it week in and week out that defenses play us different. You game-plan according to what they've done in the last three or four games. You're expecting them to do that, and they come out not doing that."

It appears that teams try to use different schemes to stop receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter, and that it takes the Vikings a quarter or so to figure them out.

"We're making adjustments. We're figuring out what they're doing to us and planning accordingly. That's the good thing about having veterans on offense and having a coaching staff that allows you to make adjustments," George said.

George, who had a reputation for being erratic in the past and had lost his only playoff start before beating the Dallas Cowboys last week, is trying to put his past behind him.

"I don't talk about the past," he said. "I don't care about it."

The problem for the Vikings is that the Rams and their pinball-machine offense can put up points so fast that it's dangerous to fall behind them.

The other thing the Vikings have to fear is that they're on the road against a bye team. Last year, they had a first-round bye and beat the Arizona Cardinals in their first game after the bye before being upset by the Atlanta Falcons.

Since the current playoff system was started in 1990, NFC teams with the bye week are 18-1 in their next game.

But Vikings coach Dennis Green said the bye can be tough to handle.

"It's very dicey with the bye. Do you practice a lot or not as much? Give them three days off or four days off? There's a lot of decisions you have to make. I think over the years, it's always been tough on teams with the bye to start as fast," Green said.

Against the Rams today, starting fast may be a key.

Labor wars

The NFL is supposed to have labor peace these days, but an occasional skirmish still breaks out.

For example, the league thought it had a deal with the NFL Players Association to move the start of the free-agency signing period from Feb. 11 to March 2.

This proposal is to help coaches -- especially ones in the playoffs -- from burning out by diving into the off-season signing period almost as soon as the season ended.

But NFLPA head Gene Upshaw wanted concessions for the change. The NFL said no, so now they're back to Feb. 11.

This means the Ravens, who have 19 free agents, don't have much time to lock up ones they want to keep.

But since the Ravens have more money under the cap than any team but the Chicago Bears -- about $25 million, depending on the final cap number -- they may be able to strike quickly and make a few key acquisitions.

New columnist

Green has tangled in the past with the Minnesota columnists. Two years ago, he accused three of them of being involved in a conspiracy against him.

But the Minneapolis paper has finally found a columnist Green would approve of -- his former offensive coordinator, Brian Billick, who moonlights as Ravens coach.

He's doing columns on the playoffs, and you can bet he won't second-guess the coach, his old boss.

"I'm biased," Billick said with a laugh.

Upon further review

Rookie running back Ricky Williams is now taking back the quotes he gave to the New York Times last week that were critical of, among others, recently fired coach Mike Ditka.

He was quoted as saying, "I think [Ditka] blamed me for how bad the season went. But Coach Ditka has to look at himself."

Williams now says: "There's a lot of misunderstanding here. I didn't mean it like that."

Williams said what he wanted to say was "just that it wasn't my fault. What happened this year wasn't my fault. I thought I was getting blamed for the team not playing well. And when people talk about why Coach got fired, they referred to the trade."

Williams was slowed by injuries and held to 884 rushing yards.

He did stand by the part of the story that he would like to redo his contract because the incentive clauses were so hard to reach. He reached one of 26.

"I'm just hoping that [the contract] can be rectified and everyone can be happy. I'm not even going to bring it up. But, if they [the Saints] offered to do it, I'm all ears."

The strange thing is that the Saints fired the executive who negotiated it, Terry O'Neil, along with Ditka and general manager Bill Kuharich.

Sense of humor

Robert Wood Johnson IV, the Johnson & Johnson heir who will be the new owner of the New York Jets pending approval of the other NFL owners, likes to stay in the background and has yet to give an interview, but appears to have a sense of humor.

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