EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -When the Minnesota Vikings trudged off the turf at Lambeau Field last month following a 34-0 rout at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, their season appeared to be on the brink of disaster.
They were 3-6 after being thoroughly dominated by their NFC North rivals, and lost star rookie Adrian Peterson to a knee injury that many thought would cripple an already struggling offense.
``You don't like to play that way and it was not a happy locker room after that game, nor should it have been,'' Vikings coach Brad Childress said Monday.
It was as grim as it could get.
``I don't think anybody in that room was particularly happy with how they portrayed themselves,'' Childress said. ``It wasn't just the offense. It wasn't just the defense or special teams. It was all of us. And when I say 'us,' I am talking about players and coaches.''
Three weeks later, Peterson is back on the field and the Vikings are steamrolling opponents in a way that hasn't been seen since Childress took over as coach before last season.
The Vikings have outscored the Raiders, Giants and Lions by a combined 112-49 in three straight wins that have put them right back in the thick of the jumbled NFC playoff race.
How have they done it?
They have kept their penalties down, their rushing yards up and gotten much better play at quarterback and in the secondary over the last three weeks.
``I just think we're focusing a lot more,'' said Chester Taylor, one half of the team's dynamic backfield duo. ``We're playing four quarters and just not stepping on our own feet and making mistakes that we used to make in the beginning of the season. We're just coming along as a team right now.''
With Peterson and Taylor, the Vikings have become a high-powered offense by pounding the ball on the ground, a rare strategy in this day and age of spread offenses and empty backfields.
They are averaging nearly 36 yards per game more on the ground than the second-ranked Jacksonville Jaguars and have rushed for 105 first downs this season.
Now 28 games into the Childress tenure, the offensive line has finally started to come together and is opening gaping holes for Peterson and Taylor, who are taking advantage of excellent downfield blocking by the receivers to break big gains.
The Vikings are averaging a league-leading 5.6 yards per rush, thanks in part to Tarvaris Jackson's increasing competence at quarterback.
In his second season, Jackson completed just 21 passes in his first two months, missing four games with injuries and looking overwhelmed when he was under center.
In the last three games, Jackson is 41-for-52 (78.8 percent) for 504 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
``Just getting completions are big,'' Childress said. ``You kind of underestimate that sometimes, but completions are big. ... I think I said it back during training camp - the one thing you couldn't give Tarvaris was the turns, the experience.''
On defense, the team's embattled secondary finally appears to be coming together as well. The Vikings have always been a top-flight defense against the run, but opposing quarterbacks have had little difficulty moving the ball down the field through the air against the league's lowest-rated pass defense.
That has changed in the last two weeks. The Vikings intercepted Eli Manning four times - returning three for touchdowns - in a 41-17 victory in the Meadowlands, then allowed just one touchdown to the high-flying Lions in a 42-10 win on Sunday at the Metrodome.
``I think they are playing off each other very will, and I think we're doing some different things in terms of disguising,'' Childress said. ``I think the guys on the back end are doing a great job of holding looks until the last moment, the linebackers the same way.''
In broader terms, it's a completely different atmosphere in the locker room now compared to the Monday after the Green Bay debacle.
``We're more of a confident team than we were three weeks ago, but we also know where our focus needs to be,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said.
With games remaining at San Francisco (3-9), home against Chicago (5-7) and Washington (5-7) and at Denver (5-7), that newfound confidence appears to be justified.
``I would say that nothing wins like winning,'' Childress said. ``You build on it, whether it is offense, defense or special teams and they all play off each other. ... It's amazing how much that adds a little hop in your step.''

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