The Vikings visit New Orleans in a crucial game tonight, badly needing a victory after starting 1-3. Center Matt Birk recalls a similar situation in 2000 when the Vikings needed a victory over these same Saints.
Birk said the good teams find a way to break a losing stretch.
"Every team is going to have that slump," Birk said. "The good ones are able to come out of them, come out of rough stretches a better football team. Like I said, use that individually, but also as a team, to get better.
"I remember in 2000, we were 11-2 and we lost the last three games of the regular season, finished 11-5. We came back and actually played the Saints in the playoffs, came out and had a really good game against the Saints in the divisional playoff. So you know that's what good teams do."
In 2000, the Vikings lost their last three games of the regular season, at Detroit, against Green Bay at home and at Indianapolis, by a combined score of 104-67. But they still earned a first-round bye in the playoffs and beat the Saints 34-16 in the postseason.
The Vikings are 19-7 all-time against the Saints, including 2-0 in the postseason and 7-5 in New Orleans. They have won the past three meetings, including their past two visits to the Superdome. In 2002, the Vikings went to New Orleans with a 3-10 record, including 0-6 on the road. But the Vikings beat the Saints 32-31 on Daunte Culpepper's two-point conversion run, starting a three-game winning streak to end the season.
Asked if tonight's game was a big one, Birk replied: "They're all big, but when you're playing an NFC team on the road, Monday night, yeah, it's a big game. ... It's loud, very, very loud down there."
Birk pointed out that the past two Super Bowl champions, Indianapolis two seasons ago and the New York Giants last year, both went through tough stretches at one point.
"You have to be very competitive to get to this level, and it just has to be part of your makeup that you hate to lose," he said. "You take it hard, but at the same time you can't let it affect you, you can't let a loss carry over from week to week, the disappointment, the frustration you feel.
"You've got to be able to learn from it, put it behind you and get better from it, and come out the next week and play better. That's what a professional does."
Of the Saints themselves, Birk said: "Defensively they're good, they've got some pretty active players, they're an active defense and they play their scheme well. They play with a lot of intensity. It's going to be another challenge for us."
Birk had praise for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, saying: "What he's done, it probably gets overlooked a little bit, but he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league."Decker OK
Gophers receiver Eric Decker had to be helped to the sidelines Saturday after making one of his sensational 13 receptions for 190 yards. But Decker returned to the game and on Sunday said he felt better.
"It knocked me off a little bit, but I got to the sidelines," Decker said. "Just a little dizzy but no headache."
Decker said he will be ready for Saturday's game at Illinois.
"This game, we'll learn a lot from ourselves, and I think we've left a lot of plays on the field, but you've still got to give Indiana defense credit because they played good," Decker said of the victory over the Hoosiers.Collado recovers
There were boos for Gophers cornerback Ryan Collado in the Northern Illinois opener when he blew a couple of pass coverages, but he stepped up nicely against Indiana after starter Marcus Sherels left because of an injury.
"I mean, obviously it was a rough start to the season but you've got to get over it and move on," said Collado, who had seven tackles vs. Indiana.
Collado also made a big play when he stripped Kellen Lewis of the ball as the Indiana quarterback tried to scramble.
"We saw on film how he kind of holds the ball loosely when he runs, so I just dove out, stripped the ball, and it came out," Collado said. "Every Tuesday we have what's called 'Takeaway Tuesdays,' a turnover circuit that we practice stripping and getting interceptions and stuff like that. So we're definitely prepared for that kind of situation."
As for that Northern Illinois game, Collado said: "My teammates, they're just real supportive about it, helping me move on, get over it, and helping me get better from that game. We went over it the next day in film, what went wrong and what I can do to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
On beating Indiana for the Gophers' first conference victory since 2007, Collado said: "It was great to come back and help the team win, that was a great win, first Big Ten win, so that definitely felt good."Jottings
Viking defensive end Jared Allen has great enthusiasm for playing on ''Monday Night Football.'' "It's sweet, basically we're starting the season all over again, on the road on Monday night," Allen said. " 'Monday Night Football' is a blast, it's always fun and it seems like the energy gets turned up a little bit, you're playing with the lights on, so it is what it is."
One thing in favor of the Vikings tonight is that Saints rookie defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, the No. 7 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, will miss up to four weeks because of a right knee injury.
One thing the Vikings have to improve tonight is their red zone efficiency. They have scored only two touchdowns on nine trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line, ranking last in the NFL entering Week 5.
Tim Brewster thought the play of quarterback Adam Weber on Saturday was "a very gutsy performance ... because he was back there running around and fighting and scratching on every snap. I told him towards the end of the third quarter, I said, 'Today is a defining day for you. You know everything isn't going great but, you know what, you're going to find a way to lead this team to victory.' And that's exactly what he did."
Brewster said he believed the play of the Gophers defense was a good sign for the future success of his team.
"It just feels great to play a game where we leaned on the defense here at Minnesota," he said. "I think that just says so much about our future, where we're going as a football team. That was a character victory."
While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and others trying to kill the revenue sharing in the NFL, Twins President Dave St. Peter said the revenue sharing system in baseball has been a blessing for teams such as the Twins, who have been getting around $20 million a year.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org