Hartman: Playoffs within reach for Vikings, whatever the outcome at Lambeau

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 2, 2012 - 9:08 AM

The Vikings are an 8 1/2-point underdog at Lambeau Field, where they are 4-9 since 2000. But center John Sullivan still believes the Purple will be in the race for the playoffs even if they lose Sunday.

Last season, three teams made the playoffs at 9-7 or worse, including Cincinnati as a wild card, in the AFC. Even with a loss the Vikings would be 6-6.

"So I don't agree [that if we lose we're out of the playoffs]," Sullivan said. "But it's definitely an important game and we're looking to go out there and win. We'd much rather be 7-5 than 6-6, and it's about building some momentum at this point in the season. We definitely want to go out and play our best.

"I think we have to strive for consistency based on how we've worked every week in practice. Obviously, we're still looking and still trying to improve as a team. We find ourselves at 6-5, so we still have a shot to accomplish all the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season. It just comes down to going out and getting better and executing on gamedays."

Sullivan said one reason it is tough to win at Green Bay is because the Lambeau crowd is very intelligent at influencing the game.

"What it really comes down to in terms of, can the stadium affect your communication on offense and make it hard for us to be productive. It's definitely a tough place to win," said Sullivan, a 2008 sixth-round draft pick. "They have a great fanbase and they are loud and they have a great team. It's a huge challenge and that's how we look at all of our divisional games. The NFC North is very tough right now, it all comes down to get this one win. That would be huge."

Important players

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier mentioned what a better chance the Vikings have to win with tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith being cleared to play after suffering concussions at Chicago last week. Unfortunately, the Vikings confirmed Saturday that star receiver Percy Harvin will miss his third game in a row because of his ankle injury.

Smith said his concussion was not a major one.

"Once I got to the locker room I felt pretty normal," the rookie said. "Even the test we did there I passed but they just didn't want to, I guess, put me back on the field.

"I mean football is football, you get hit in the head. That's just how it goes."

Speaking of Smith, the Vikings roster includes five Notre Dame products: tight end John Carlson and safety Robert Blanton in addition to Smith, Sullivan and Rudolph. Smith and former Cretin Derham-Hall standout Michael Floyd, now a wide receiver with the Arizona Cardinals, were Notre Dame products taken in the first round of the April NFL draft. Two other Irish players were drafted, both in the fifth round, including Blanton by the Vikings.

Smith admitted he was somewhat surprised that the Irish have secured a spot in the BCS national championship game Jan. 7 in Miami.

"We lost three of the four starters in the secondary, plus Floyd and some key players," Smith said. "So nobody expected Notre Dame to be unbeaten and [ranked] No. 1 in the country.

"I mean, I was on the team last year and I didn't expect them to be this good. But I am happy for them."

As for Floyd, through Week 7, when the Cardinals lost to the Vikings, he had only eight catches on the season. In the past four games, though he has been thrown to a lot more, with 16 catches for 169 yards.

Play in Texans Stadium

If the Gophers football team is selected to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, then the Maroon and Gold will get to play in the home of the Houston Texans -- Reliant Stadium, with a capacity of 69,000.

They had 30,000 Texans season-ticket holders at last year's bowl game, which sold out as Texas A&M defeated Northwestern 33-22.

The Gophers will be asked to sell 12,000 tickets as their allotment. However, the Gophers will not get stuck for the tickets they don't sell. All bowl tickets not sold by the various Big Ten teams go into a pool, and teams share the cost of the tickets allotted but not sold.

On another subject, for the first time in history the Gophers will have two bye weeks next season, because they open the season early, on Thursday, Aug. 29 against UNLV. Their byes are Oct. 12 and Nov. 16.

The second game of the season will be played at New Mexico State, followed by nonconference home games against Western Illinois and San Jose State. The Gophers will also have home conference games with Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin, while their road conference games are at Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan State.

SID'S JOTTINGS

• E.J. Henderson, who played nine years for the Vikings, hasn't been picked up despite other free-agent linebackers being signed to replace injured players on other teams.

Only two players on Class 6A high school football champion Eden Prairie have commitments for Division I football scholarships. They are linebacker Jack Cottrell with Boston College and defensive tackle Tyson Reinke with Kent State.

In Green Bay, they give a lot of credit for the Packers' strong drafts to Brian Gutekunst, who became the team's director of college scouting this year after serving as a regional scout since 1998. Brian is the son of former Gophers coach John Gutekunst.

The Gophers football team just got a commitment from running back Berkley Edwards out of Chelsea, Mich. He is the brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon Edwards.

Scott Erickson, the 20-game winner on the Twins' 1991 championship team, was named pitching coach of the Indians' rookie-ball Arizona League squad. Erickson served as pitching coach at Class A Carolina this past season.

Former Twins reliever Pat Neshek re-signed with the Oakland Athletics for $975,000, avoiding arbitration. The Park Center graduate pitched well for the AL West champion A's, but the season also was marked by tragedy when Neshek's newborn son died in October less than a day after his birth.

Gophers hockey recruit Taylor Cammarata ended November leading the USHL in scoring with 11 goals and 20 assists in 15 games for Waterloo. Teammate and fellow Gophers recruit Justin Kloos is third in the league in scoring with nine goals and 19 assists. Another Gophers recruit, Gabe Guertler, is ninth in league scoring with 14 goals and eight assists for Fargo.

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