Speaking during the bye week, Vikings coach Brad Childress was very upbeat about his team. That was before the Fox Sports report came out saying Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams could face four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on banned substances.

The Vikings and Childress would not comment on league substance policies, and the NFL spokesman Greg Aiello also refused comment.

The absence of the two Williamses in the middle of the line really would put a big damper on the defense. But nobody knows how this report will play out.

Childress, from his interview last week, said the Vikings could have a much better record than their 3-4 mark with a break or two.

"Really the wins and losses, because it's such a close thing," Childress said. "Whether you talk about the Indianapolis game and coming back up the field; whether you talk about being in the last drive against Green Bay. Just [the] closeness [of the games] and not being able to find that one thing that could put it over the top.

"I see a ton of good things, and again, we're not quite halfway through the season here. But there's no reason to believe that we won't get it right as we go forward."

Childress sees a lot of good things in the way the team has played. He said some of the Vikings' new players have stood out early this season.

"Everybody wants to count numbers and sacks, but Jared [Allen] has been a good addition in the locker room," the Vikings coach said. "He's been a good addition in terms of creating pressure on the quarterback. He's a good defensive player, a good team player. Bernard Berrian, I think, gets more comfortable every day. You can see his playmaking ability. I think he's developed a rapport with Gus [Frerotte]. And then Madieu [Williams] is kind of a work in progress here, and hopefully we get to see him these last nine games."

Expecting too much

Speaking about running back Adrian Peterson, Childress said: "Well, I sure knew that he wasn't going to run for 280 yards or 250 yards every game, but [he's done] just about what I thought. I think you're seeing a pickup in the passing game because of the way people are starting to play us in the running game, but still he's got that ability to break that long one.''

The Vikings rank ninth in the NFL in rushing at 128.4 yards per game but only 17th in passing at 213.4 yards per game; overall, their 341.9 yards per game ranks 12th in total offense.

"When I look at how poor we were statistically passing the football ... we just need to keep that getting better," Childress said.

Except for the Vikings' 48-41 loss at Chicago in their most recent game Oct. 19, Childress has been happy with the defense.

"They've been the stalwart," he said. "I thought in this last game, they gave up some plays that were just a little bit too easy. It wasn't too characteristic of our defense. Our defense usually makes you bleed slowly and sweat it out, but they had some stops when they needed to.

"... You've got to win your share of close ones, that's the point, and to keep them close you've got to eliminate your own mistakes."

His plan is for the team to make the rest of the season look like nine one-game seasons.

"We get to play all the divisional teams again, two of them at home," he said. "We've got a number of NFC games at the end. I think we go to Florida twice [Tampa Bay and Jacksonville], we go to Arizona. We can hang with anybody. ... The big deal is getting the win."

Childress likes everything about his football team.

"I've got a good bunch of guys," he said. "I've got a good football team that wants to get it right. There's nobody pointing fingers, they know that we do it all together. Sometimes offense wins it, sometimes defense, sometimes special teams."

When things go wrong with a football team, they usually point to the coach first. Outstanding left tackle Bryant McKinnie had to sit out four games because of an NFL suspension, and now it's unclear what will happen with the Williamses. But when your football team loses games because of the absence of star players, it's hardly the coach's fault.

Jottings

ESPN wanted to televise the Gophers-Northwestern game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC, but Northwestern officials said they planned on playing an 11 a.m. game here and refused to change. ... The Wildcats will be missing star running back Tyrell Sutton, who injured his wrist in the third quarter of Saturday's 21-19 loss at Indiana and will require surgery. Sutton leads the Wildcats in rushing with 776 yards on 155 carries (5.0 yards per carry) and ranked fourth in receiving with 30 catches for 276 yards. In his place, Omar Conteh, who has 223 yards on 61 carries (3.7 per carry), is expected to start at the Metrodome. ... The Wildcats also could be without standout quarterback C.J. Bacher, who hurt his right leg and missed the final Wildcats drive, when they needed only a field goal to win the game. Mike Kafka, who fumbled twice on that last drive, likely would start against the Gophers if Bacher can't go.

The Gophers might lose running back recruit Eric Stephens from Mansfield (Texas) Timberview, who committed to play here but now is indicating he might switch to Texas Tech because it is closer to home.

Brandon Green, the Gophers freshman receiver from Chicago who started at Purdue in place of the suspended Ralph Spry, didn't know he was going to start until just before the game.

Twins pitcher Pat Neshek was on the mound the past week. He said that he hasn't had any problem with his arm during rehabilitation so far. Neshek, who missed most of the season after suffering a torn elbow ligament in May, didn't undergo surgery for the injury. He said he felt his arm could have been 100 percent by now and could have been throwing a month ago but added, "But we have all the time in the world, and we're taking that slow and steady approach, just in case I wasn't ready. But, if I really had to push, I felt like I could have been back right about now."

Former Vikings running back Mewelde Moore had another good game for Pittsburgh on Sunday. Playing because of injuries to Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall, Moore had 84 yards on 19 carries and a 32-yard touchdown run in a 21-14 loss to the Giants.

This has been a tough season not only for Colts coach Tony Dungy, but also for two of his former assistants with the Buccaneers: the Lions' Rod Marinelli and the Chiefs' Herm Edwards. Loaded with injuries, the Colts might not win 12 games this season for the first time since 2003, Dungy's second year with Indianapolis.

Bryce McNeal, the Breck receiver who withdrew his commitment to Michigan and could wind up with the Gophers, has been selected to play in the 2009 U.S. Army All-American Bowl Jan. 3 in San Antonio.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com