The Vikings play the Bears tonight at the Metrodome in a game they must win to maintain their hold on an NFC playoff berth. Though this is the teams' second meeting of the season, Vikings right guard Anthony Herrera said the Bears defense has changed some since the Week 6 meeting in Chicago.
"Well they're a division rival so we see them twice a year, and we've been seeing them for the past few years so it always helps to be familiar with the player that you're going up against, you know," Herrera said. "But it's always tough when we play them at the beginning of the season [to] now, it's coming up to the end of the season, so they're showing different looks, different defenses. They've got some different guys playing. So preparation is always important."
When the Vikings won 34-31 on Oct. 14 at Soldier Field, the Bears starters on defense included Anthony Adams, who was one of two defensive tackles Chicago put on injured reserve last week. Two more tackles, the great Tommie Harris (knee) and Darwin Walker (elbow), might not play because of injuries, and so Chicago could be playing three linemen tonight who just joined the team: Jimmy Kennedy, Matt Toeaina and Babatunde Oshinowo.
Meanwhile, in the Chicago secondary, free-agent acquisition Adam Archuleta, the highest-paid safety in the NFL, has been benched because of his poor play, while cornerback Nathan Vasher has missed 10 consecutive games because of a groin injury and is listed as questionable again tonight.
Even though no linebackers are listed on the injury report, Brian Urlacher has played despite suffering from a bad back all season. Still, Urlacher is one player who always has given the Vikings a headache, and one of Herrera's duties tonight will be to block the All-Pro middle linebacker.
"Urlacher is Urlacher. He likes to run and make plays all over the field, and that's what he does," Herrera said.
"It's just that their defense probably must not be getting as much credit right now because of the way things are going, but I think he's still having a great year and he's a Pro Bowl player, he's always going to show up."
Urlacher made five unassisted tackles against the Vikings in the first game this year. Even though he might be having a down year by his standards, he leads Chicago with 101 tackles, including three sacks.
"Him being a [middle] linebacker, I think I'll be getting my hands on him a little bit," Herrera said. "He's fast, he's slippery, he's a Pro Bowl player, so he knows the game. He knows how to get off blocks, so it's going to be a challenge."
Herrera, who recently signed a five-year contract extension that could be worth up to $15 million, said what has helped the Vikings win the past four games is the great relationship players have with each other.
"It's great chemistry, everybody's playing for each other, nobody's playing for themselves," he said. "Everybody's just playing for the guys lining up next to them."
On his new contract, he said: "I did OK with that. My future is only as good as my last game, so I've got to keep it going."Big game for Wade
Vikings wide receiver Bobby Wade, speaking about tonight's game against his former team: "It's a big game, obviously not only because it's the NFC North rivalry, a Monday night game, but it's a team where I started my career and now we have the opportunity to go out and sweep them this year."
On the Bears' struggles after winning the NFC championship a year ago, Wade said: "Obviously it's tough to repeat, to go back to the Super Bowl. But they're still a competitive team, they're still a strong team, and right now they're still the NFC North champs. So, we've got to be able to compete and play."
In the first meeting against Chicago, Wade, who was waived by the Bears last year, had three receptions for 30 yards along with four fair catches as a punt returner.
While the Vikings have been fortunate in the fact that their two great tackles -- Pat and Kevin Williams -- have been healthy all year, the Bears have lost 67 starts to injuries this year, and 20 of them have been at defensive tackle. In the season opener, Chicago lost defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek and safety Mike Brown for the season to knee injuries.Jottings
For those who campaigned for the Twins to draft Southern California pitcher Mark Prior No. 1 overall in the 2001 draft rather than Cretin-Derham Hall catcher Joe Mauer, it's interesting that the Cubs decided not to tender a contract to the injury-prone Prior last week, making him a free agent. Prior didn't pitch at all in 2007 after making only nine starts in '06.
Former Gophers cornerback Michael Lehan played a big part in the Dolphins' first victory of the season Sunday, as he had four solo tackles on defense and another on special teams, defensed two passes and intercepted a key pass, his first interception of the season. Lehan, who sat out last week at Buffalo because of a groin injury, has 47 tackles and one sack this season.
The Bud Grant family will be the subject of an ESPN program to be shown sometime in 2008.
UCLA interim football coach DeWayne Walker, the former Gophers defensive back, has been interviewed for the job fulltime. If he doesn't get the job, Kevan Walker, DeWayne's son and a wide receiver, might change his mind and go back to the Gophers. Kevan Walker had committed to Minnesota, then changed his mind and said he would play for the Bruins. ... Former Gophers assistant Kevin Sumlin, who had been co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, was named coach at the University of Houston on Friday.
It was a good break for former Vikings defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, who will coach the Falcons for the final three games this year after Bobby Petrino left for Arkansas and might get consideration for the job after the season.
Ralph Sampson III, the 6-11 Gophers basketball recruit, recently posted a triple-double with 31 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots as his Duluth (Ga.) Northview team beat Walton 68-61. He is averaging 23.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game.
Among Gophers recruits in the United States Hockey League: Jake Hansen has 13 goals and nine assists in 23 games for Sioux Falls; former Holy Angels standout Taylor Matson has five goals and six assists in 23 games for Des Moines; and Seth Helgason has two goals and three assists in 20 games for Sioux City. Michael Dorr (Des Moines) and Brandon Martell (Tri-City) are injured and have yet to play this season.