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Vikings Hope Bye Week Goes Smoothly

October 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Maybe, just maybe, the entire Minnesota Vikings team has learned from the recent sordid past.

"Guys would have to be pretty much stuck on stupid to get in trouble after the bye week we had last year," safety Darren Sharper said. "You can pretty much guarantee there won't be the same instances."

The break in last season's schedule brought more negative publicity than ever to an organization that has seen plenty of it.

Taking their annual party for new players to unparalleled levels of lewdness, dozens of Vikings organized an outing on a pair of boats to cruise Lake Minnetonka on a crisp, October evening, without the worry of a game to play that weekend. And the night devolved into pure debauchery, at least for a handful of the guys.

The appalled owners of the charter complained to the police of intimidation, drunkenness, nudity and visible sexual activity. The story was plastered all over the news. Three players, including current starters cornerback Fred Smoot and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, were ultimately charged with three misdemeanors apiece.

Soon after, owner Zygi Wilf put his stamp of approval on an updated code of conduct for all employees, a telling sign even though the document was in the works before the sultry soiree.

Though they rebounded from a rough start on the field and finished with a winning record, last year's Vikings were essentially a national joke -- providing the punch line to all sorts of cracks about building team camaraderie and, uh, finding ways to score.

This time, they're insistent: No more knuckleheaded behavior, as Coach Brad Childress reminded them once again after last Sunday's victory over Detroit.

"Don't be the guy," Childress warned.

He's already had to deal with two of those "guys" this summer.

Receiver Koren Robinson, since released, was arrested and charged with drunken and reckless driving. Safety Dwight Smith, a starter, was cited shortly after that for indecent conduct with a woman in a stairwell outside a downtown night club.

Perhaps these were just get-it-out-their-system mishaps.

"There's not going to be any parties this year," defensive end Kenechi Udeze said. "That's a good thing. That's the last thing we need right now. We need to be worried about being a good team."

They're close to being just that, despite an offense that has single-handedly cured insomnia in the state of Minnesota.

In a change that still takes some getting used to for anyone who has followed the purple over the last decade, the defense has been dominant. It's a major reason the Vikings took a 3-2 record into this bye week, and it has been tough enough to overcome an offense that has managed four touchdowns in five games.

"They've stepped up when our offense has been down, and that's what they have to do," said Chester Taylor, one bright spot who is fourth in the NFL with 421 yards rushing. "It's a team game, and our offense needs to match them. They have picked up us a lot lately."

Against the Lions, the defense scored on an interception return and a recovered fumble.

"It's definitely more fun to see the splash plays and see the highlights on SportsCenter," linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "We're having a good time right now."

He meant on the field, of course. This week, it's all about reading a good book and relaxing in the living room. Except not so much relaxation that they report back to Winter Park out of shape.

"They've got to weigh in," Childress said. "That's always a telltale. You can't sit and eat bonbons on the couch, you know."

Not with undefeated Chicago threatening to run away with the NFC North. The Bears, actually, could easily have been beaten by Minnesota in Week 3, but a botched handoff put the ball on the turf late in the game and led to a comeback win for the division leaders at the Metrodome.

Tough losses like that, plus an intense training camp and months and months of learning new systems on both sides of the ball, told the coach that time off was the best option this week.

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