MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Everything seemed to be going so well for the Detroit Lions.
Less than a month ago, they routed Denver 44-7 at Ford Field to improve to 6-2, seemingly announcing to the rest of the NFL that these Motor City Kitties were finally for real.
Then the law of averages came into play.
Three straight losses to Arizona, the Giants and Green Bay have brought them crashing back down and inserted a sense of familiarity in a franchise that lost more games in the previous six years than any other.
In his second year at the helm, coach Rod Marinelli is trying to keep things simple in hopes of ridding the Lions of the ``here we go again'' attitude that has permeated the organization for so long.
``It comes down to us. A lack of execution. That's all it is,'' Marinelli said. ``This game is about an inch here and an inch there, a proper lead step here, making a tackle with the proper shoulder, keeping proper leverage, punting the ball and covering it correctly.
``It's not about mental. You don't need couch therapy or anything.''
The next chance for the Lions (6-5) to stop the slide comes Sunday in the Metrodome against the improving Vikings (5-6), who have won three of their last four games to vault back into the muddled NFC playoff picture.
The Vikings come in on the heels of a surprisingly easy 41-17 victory over the Giants. They no doubt will be buoyed by the return of star rookie Adrian Peterson, who missed the previous two games with a knee injury.
``The momentum we're building is very positive,'' said linebacker Chad Greenway, one of three Vikings to return an interception for a touchdown last week in the Meadowlands. ``But it can all be lost in one game.''
Not if Peterson has anything to say about it.
Despite missing the last nine-plus quarters after tearing the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee against Green Bay, Peterson still leads the NFL with 1,081 yards rushing.
He will wear a rather large brace to protect his knee and is expected to split carries with veteran Chester Taylor, who has filled in admirably in Peterson's stead.
``I'm very anxious to get back on the field and just go out there and play with the guys again,'' Peterson said. ``I love this game, so it hurts when you're on the sideline watching. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out and putting the pads on and get it going.''
Both teams will have plenty on the line Sunday.
The Lions enter with a tenuous hold on the second wild-card spot in the NFC, with Philadelphia, Washington, Arizona, New Orleans, Chicago and the Vikings all one game back.
``I think people know that there are not going to be many more opportunities after this one,'' Lions center Dominic Raiola said. ``We tried to get that mind-set a couple weeks ago, but it didn't happen. I think people understand that if Minnesota wins, they jump ahead of us. That's the bottom line.''
Before the season, the Lions figured getting to 10 wins would surely get them in the playoffs. That seemed like a foregone conclusion after they surged out of the gates.
Now? Not so much.
``Our chances are running out around here,'' Raiola said. ``If we lose this one, we have to win four straight.''
The Vikings are taking a slightly different approach.
Coach Brad Childress has banned his players from even mentioning the playoffs - or ``the p-word'' as safety Darren Sharper put it this week. Since a 2-5 start, Childress has hammered the mantra of singular focus on the next week's game, and nothing more.
``It's just about getting momentum and it all starts with winning one game sometimes,'' Sharper said. ``Just having that attitude, having that feeling of getting a victory, a lot of times carries over to the next game because you have that confidence.''
It's worked to this point, with the Vikings creeping back into contention. To continue that climb, they will have to avenge a 20-17 overtime loss at Detroit in Week 2, which snapped Minnesota's 10-game winning streak over the Lions.
``A couple of wins gives you a little swagger, and that's a good thing, to always know who you are and what got you there,'' Childress said. ``And I just think their focus is on the Detroit Lions, period.''
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