MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The last time they played at home, the Minnesota Vikings left embarrassed after a loss to their biggest rival and watched coach Brad Childress get booted out of his job the next day.
With the “Fire Childress!” chants hopefully retired, the Vikings (4-7) hope to get their fans riled up again — in a good way — when they host the Buffalo Bills in Leslie Frazier’s first home game as the interim replacement for Childress.
“Our fans are going to be huge in our success on Sunday, all the way through,” Frazier said. “I’m hoping that if we face adversity, that noise doesn’t wane.”
The Metrodome, now named Mall of America Field, has been notoriously helpful to the Vikings over the years. Even with the playoffs a near-impossibility, there are three chances left in 2010 to distract and disrupt the opposing offense and feed off that loud crowd, provided there’s still reason to cheer.
“We plan on earning it. We’re asking. I’m begging. Whatever it takes. We’re going to show that we’re worthy of it by our play,” said Frazier, who has mentioned often this week his desire for the din.
Players haven’t exactly appreciated the boos they’ve heard at home during this disappointing season, but they understand.
“They pay a lot of money for those tickets to come and watch us play, and they expect us to go out there and win,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “I feel their side of it, but we’re trying. We’re working hard, and the ball just hasn’t been bouncing our way.”
After the low point of a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings used the fresh-start energy from the widely respected Frazier’s takeover to beat the Washington Redskins 17-13 on the road. The pressure is off, at least, even though the failure to perform up to those Super Bowl aspirations can’t be forgotten.
“It’s just how it falls sometimes,” Bills wide receiver Lee Evans said. “They do have a tremendous amount of talent over there, and you can’t discount that regardless of what their record is.”
The Bills (2-9) are eliciting the same kind of quotes, with four losses in their last six games by three points each. Three of them were in overtime, including last week’s dagger against the Pittsburgh Steelers when wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped the would-be winning touchdown in the end zone.
“That’s going to mean this game he’s probably going to be catching everything,” said Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who had a problem hanging onto the ball in 2007. “I know he’s going to go back to work because nobody likes to be seen like that.”
The Bills collectively went to work after their awful start, finding their stride under quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who took over as the starter in Week 3. New coach Chan Gailey explained this week his decision to make the change thusly: “We weren’t playing worth a flip on offense.”
He further praised Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round draft pick out of Harvard by the St. Louis Rams in 2005, when asked if he was becoming a true franchise quarterback, which the Vikings must search for when Brett Favre retires as expected after the season.
“He’s playing like one right now,” Gailey said of Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick would rather forget about the last time he started a game at Minnesota, when he threw five interceptions for the Rams in a late-season loss to the Vikings in 2005.
“It was an experience. I’ll tell you that,” Fitzpatrick said.
He has gained plenty of experience since then, and Gailey has given him more confidence by entrusting the job to Fitzpatrick after benching Trent Edwards after two rough games and cutting him the following week. Though they’re still a prime candidate to get the first pick in next year’s draft, the Bills have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in attitude if not in the AFC East standings.
“He has a plan and a direction he wants us to go,” Fitzgerald said of Gailey. “It says a lot about the character of the guys in the locker room, too, just being professional and not sitting there losing hope and focus.”
All nine of their losses have come to teams with currently winning records, and seven of them are either tied for or in the lead in their respective divisions. Owner Ralph Wilson, who took the blame this spring for the Bills being what he called a “dull team” over the past decade, has been pleased by the way Gailey has helped bring a spark.
“It gives me a great deal of hope for what we can build here because you have the foundation of character, you have the foundation of work ethic, you have the foundation of never-quit attitude,” Gailey said. “And if you have that foundation, you give yourself a tremendous chance to be a championship team down the road.”
These are the kind of traits the Vikings were raving about last year on their way to the NFC North title, a 12-4 record and an appearance in the NFC championship game. Since that overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, they’ve watched their good vibes scatter in the opposite direction.
Since Frazier took over, they’ve been trying to gather them up again.
“The players have to play,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “We weren’t doing that for a time this year and hopefully now, if anything, if we don’t get a chance to make the playoffs, at least we can finish strong.”
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