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Three and out: Vikings pregame topics of note

  • September 19, 2012 - 9:14 PM
After being favored in Weeks 1 and 2, the Vikings will return to Mall of America Field on Sunday as seven-point underdogs against the mighty 49ers, who already have posted impressive victories over two of the NFC North's top teams. But wait, there's more. Here's a trio of other things you should know in this week's edition of Three-and-Out:

1 Sunday's loss in Indianapolis really aggravated Antoine Winfield.

At 35, Winfield is the oldest player on a team in the middle of a significant youth movement. But he wants it understood that he's not going to lower his standards as these Vikings experience inevitable growing pains. On Monday, Winfield spoke out in a full team meeting, delivering a passionate sermon in an attempt to sharpen the Vikings' focus.

The veteran cornerback remains guarded on what all he said during what he estimates was a 10-minute "from the heart" pep talk. But Winfield admits he can see the finish line of his career and doesn't want the stretch run to include an abundance of losses.

"I'm playing this game because I want to win a championship," he said. "It's not about the money anymore. I still love to play. I'm still productive. I can still play at a high level. That's why I'm still here."

Winfield's speech resonated quickly, according to rookie safety Harrison Smith.

"He let us know exactly what he sees in this team and what he wants from us," Smith said. "It was good to hear him calling it like he sees it and allowing us to better understand what we need to be doing and what we need to be correcting. There's not one guy on this team who doesn't respect Antoine and look to him for how he does things. So when he tells us what he sees, we're going to listen with the understanding that he knows best."

2 Randy Moss still is behaving himself.

Twenty-two months after his unceremonious exit from Minnesota, Moss has settled into a happy place in San Francisco. True to form, when on a very good team, Moss seems to be a very good teammate. And what tends to surprise everyone who gets around him for the first time is how much football savvy he possesses.

Vikings receivers coach George Stewart only had four weeks with Moss during the receiver's 2010 return, and they were incredibly tumultuous weeks at that. But Stewart came away impressed with just how sharp Moss was.

Said Stewart: "The one thing about Randy Moss that will hold true from now until the day George Stewart departs this earth: He's an extremely intelligent football player. I've never been around a guy as smart and with as great a football sense as he has. Randy Moss is special with his football mindset."

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith echoed those sentiments Wednesday with Smith noting Moss' tremendous communication skills.

"I mean, he's big, he can run, he can catch," Smith said. "But his knowledge of the game, how much he thinks out there, how fast he thinks on his feet [stands out]. He sees things so well. He has a great understanding of defenses and leverage."

3 Harbaugh's presence has been a huge catalyst for the 49ers' resurgence the past two seasons.

Two years ago at this time, San Francisco was in the middle of an inexplicable early-season slide under then-coach Mike Singletary, opening 2010 with five consecutive losses and never recovering. Yet after going 18-22 in the games Singletary coached from the early in 2008 until late in the 2010 season, the 49ers have since won 17 of their past 21, including the postseason. Predictably, Harbaugh was asked Wednesday just how he has sparked such a turnaround.

"A lot of people ask that question," he said. "I get the feeling they want the list of sayings or bullet points. We really don't have answers for anybody, even ourselves. We're still asking questions. ... Are we good enough to come back every single week and prepare the way we have been? Are our study habits where they need to be? Are we strong enough, tough enough? Are we going to be able to work through problems and fix 'em? That's more asking questions than it is answering. I think that's the best way for us."

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