EDEN PRAIRIE -- Low-risk, ball-control offense won't excite many fans, but it's a thrill to the Minnesota Vikings.
"Hey, I'll take 41:19 every week," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "I'll take 25-7, sprinting out of the parking lot."
The numbers Linehan tossed out represented the length of time Minnesota kept the ball during Sunday's win over Chicago and the resulting final score.
Because of an effective ground game and smarter, more patient play from quarterback Daunte Culpepper, the defense was on the field for less than one-third of the game.
And they'll probably have to continue being the vanilla Vikings for the victories to keep coming.
Coach Mike Tice has been saying all season that his team is going to have to be a little more boring, as in throwing fewer deep balls and going with higher-percentage passes and reliable running plays.
"For us to win, we've got to be methodical," Linehan said. "We're always conscious of that, but it just hasn't happened because we get behind."
Despite an impressive performance against the Bears that included only 44 yards rushing allowed, Minnesota's young defense still ranks 28th in the league.
So the impetus remains on the offense to keep the ball for long drives, and hang onto it, too. After entering the game with an NFL-worst minus-14 turnover differential, the Vikings lost one fumble and forced the Bears into three turnovers.
For once, the Vikings were the team in control -- holding the lead and keeping their defense on the sideline.
Middle linebacker Greg Biekert told running back Michael Bennett thanks.
"He told me he felt like he was fresh every series," Bennett said. "It's the first time we've run the ball that well. That's real positive."
Several positions -- cornerback, strong safety and strong-side linebacker -- have been in flux all season to date, and it will be awhile before the Vikings' defense is feared by opponents. But Sunday's effort was a significant step in the right direction.
The biggest key was coordinating a strong rush from the defensive line with tight coverage in the secondary. On obvious passing situations, the Vikings shuffled their front to put their top four pass rushers -- Lorenzo Bromell and Lance Johnstone on the ends and Kenny Mixon and Chris Hovan inside -- on the field at the same time.
It worked well. Minnesota had a season-high six sacks.
"On any given play the last month-and-a-half," defensive coordinator Willie Shaw said, "we'd say, 'We had good coverage here but no pass rush.' Or we had a good pass rush but poor coverage. It was never just one side."
Still, there's much progress to be made.
"We're not the 1985 Bears, we're not the 2000 Ravens," Shaw said. "But we will try to get better each week and find our best 11 guys for each situation."
The main reason the offense clicked was Culpepper. He had 12 interceptions in the first six games, but Sunday he didn't force anything -- especially to Randy Moss.
But when it was there, as it was on their 39-yard TD pass in the third quarter, Culpepper took it.
"We want to hit every strike over the plate out of the park," Linehan said, "but that doesn't always happen. We've got to be aggressive, but at same time we've got to be patient. It's the hardest thing in the world."
The Vikings shouldn't have trouble putting Sunday's victory in perspective -- they need only glance at the NFC North standings.
"There are still a lot of things we have to clean up," Tice said. "We're still a 2-5 football team."
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