ST. LOUIS - Vikings fans are perpetual worrywarts with their 0-4 Super Bowl record, Drew Pearson's unpunished pushoff in 1975, Gary Anderson's miss in 1998, 41-doughnut and, well, you get the idea.

The Purple Pessimists will note this year's 5-0 start and compare it to the 2003 squad that joined the 1978 Redskins in NFL infamy as the only teams to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs.

Relax, people. This isn't 2003. Not even close.

Instead of losing to the league's worst team, the Vikings were so far in front of the Rams on Sunday that Tarvaris Jackson entered the game. And, get this, he threw a pass that Naufahu (One Yard At A Time) Tahi turned into a 32-yard completion, a career long by 24.

Vikings 38, Rams 10. Bye-bye, ghosts from 2003, a year in which the NFL had four teams finish a league-worst 4-12, and all four of them beat the Vikings during the season's final 10 weeks.

"There's definitely a lot different vibe on this team than the one in 2003," said middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was a rookie in 2003. "We were just happy to be there at 6-0 in 2003. We really know our capabilities this year. We're more mature. When we play a lesser team, we aren't going to play down to their level and lose."

Sunday's game was the perfect litmus test for that statement. The Vikings were traveling on a short week after an emotional prime-time victory over the rival Packers in Brett Favre's first game against his former team. The Rams were at home and backed into a corner with an embarrassing league-high 14-game losing streak.

"We were ripe for a letdown," defensive end Jared Allen said. "But truly good teams always find a way to win, just like bad teams always find a way to lose. I've been on the other side of this thing in Kansas City."

The 2003 Vikings started out as a good team. But on the season's final play, they were bounced from the playoff race when Nate Poole caught a game-winning touchdown pass for a Cardinals team that was 3-12.

This year's Vikings have a better defense. A better quarterback in Favre. A better running back in Adrian Peterson. And while Mike Tice won with more limited resources, the Vikings also have a steadier hand on the steering wheel with Brad (Flat-line) Childress as coach.

"In 2003, we hit so hard every day in practice that we just wore down at the end of the season," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "This year, we're a lot fresher and having a lot more fun."

There's also no excuses for underachieving. Owner Zygi Wilf has ponied up for every toy that Childress has asked for since 2006.

"Basically, we have everything we need to win," tight end Jim Kleinsasser said. "Now, it's just a matter of us living up to what we're supposed to do."

The Vikings also seem to have one of the things good teams enjoy: luck.

"Yeah, you can say that," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "But that's OK. To go all the way, it always seems like the great teams have luck on their side."

The Vikings haven't sustained a major injury and bad teams have helped them out with opportune turnovers.

On Sunday, the Vikings could have trailed 14-10 at halftime. Instead, they led 17-3 because the Rams turned the ball over three times, twice inside the Vikings 5-yard line. Two of the turnovers were unforced.

With the Rams trailing 7-0 and driving downfield, quarterback Kyle Boller had the ball slip out of his hands. Allen scooped it up and ran 52 yards for the first defensive touchdown of his career.

"It was the simplest play ever," Allen said. "The ball was on the ground. I picked it up. I started running. I looked up at the big screen and saw nobody was close to me. Then I ran for a touchdown."

Two possessions later, the Rams had first-and-goal at the 1. Boller and Steven Jackson muffed the handoff exchange. The ball came out, and there was Allen to fall on it again.

"What can I say? Things are going our way right now," Allen said. "We have a lot of good players. The ball bounced right to me today. I'm not complaining. We're going to ride this train as long as we can."

Mark Craig •