In professional sports, it doesn't get more cliché than crediting a team for responding to adversity. Truth be told, the Vikings weren't facing adversity last week as much as they were teetering on the brink of disaster. Having slopped through the franchise's worst regular-season loss in 23 years, the Vikings were beginning to face the type of questions that often arise when a losing season is materializing.
Did a lifeless performance at Lambeau Field signify a player revolt? Is coach Brad Childress' job in jeopardy? Are there any true leaders on this team?
Like a man thrown overboard holding tightly to the side of the ship, the Vikings kept fighting Sunday against Oakland. Their 29-22 victory was spurred by a Saturday night challenge from Childress, who implored them to play harder than they did last week at Green Bay, and an all-time performance from nose tackle Pat Williams, who loosened up his teammates during the week and then imposed his considerable will against the Raiders' running game Sunday.
"It didn't matter who was I was playing against," Williams said. "I just wanted to kill them. ... All week, all I told our guys was just to have fun. Don't worry about our record. Just go out and have fun. I want them smiling every day, joking around with everyone every day. Do whatever it takes to keep things hungry. We had nothing to lose and everything to win."
The Vikings didn't make it easy on themselves, committing five turnovers and failing to run out the clock on their last possession. Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper moved Oakland as close as the Vikings 36 on its final drive, but safety Darren Sharper batted down a pass in the end zone on the game's final play.
Culpepper threw for 344 yards in his return to the Metrodome, but he was sacked four times and committed two turnovers. Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson also turned it over twice but otherwise turned in his most efficient day as a professional (17 completions in 22 attempts for 171 yards).
Jackson's teammates set up two touchdowns with trick plays, and tailback Chester Taylor rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns in place of injured Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings' 478-yard offensive performance was a nice rebound from a 34-0 shutout last week. More important, the Vikings demonstrated they still have some life after that embarrassing performance.
Childress all but questioned their manhood Saturday night, telling them that no one should want to be remembered for the team's effort against the Packers.
"At some point," Childress said, "football is going to end for every one of us in our career. And I don't think anybody would have liked to have been marked by last week's performance. So it's important when you get these opportunities.
"Nothing is promised forward -- coaching, playing -- you never know. You want to feel good about yourself, and you need to always, always, always do your best."
The Vikings did not always do their best Sunday, but from the outside it sure appeared they were trying their hardest. The hapless Raiders were facing a desolate situation of their own, having lost five consecutive games, and the Vikings knocked them off their feet from the start.
Rookie receiver Sidney Rice completed a 79-yard pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on the game's first play, and Taylor scored from 10 yards out one play later.
The Vikings missed a chance to blow open the game in the first quarter, which could have ended with the score 21-0. But Jackson threw an interception in the end zone that killed the Vikings' second drive, and their third drive stalled in the red zone when they mysteriously used reserve Naufahu Tahi on three consecutive runs.
But the Vikings wisely tapped Rice's arm again in the third quarter; his 15-yard pass to Troy Williamson set up Taylor's 6-yard scoring run and put the Vikings ahead 29-19 with 14 minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the game.
All the while, Williams was bludgeoning the Raiders offensive line, finishing with a team-high nine tackles; Oakland averaged 2.3 yards per carry. Williams is among eight members of the Vikings' player council, and it was clear he took Childress' message to heart.
"I was killing those boys today," Williams said. "I was killing them. My goal was that they were not going to run the ball. ... That was my mindset, and they didn't get anywhere."
That the Vikings had any mindset, even against an Oakland team that slopped through an 11-penalty game, was a pleasant surprise. But it was no shock that the a-word made its way into the postgame discussion.
"We fought through some adversity," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "But those are the ones you really enjoy."
Center Matt Birk put it a bit more bluntly.
"It didn't have to be that hard," Birk said. "But we'll take it."
Sometimes, the cliché fits.
Kevin Seifert email@example.com