MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The last time Michael Strahan and his New York Giants prepared to play the Minnesota Vikings, the circumstances were completely different.
Yet a shift in venue from that NFC title game last January, Strahan's staggering sack total and a noticeable drop by both teams in the standings are merely cosmetic changes.
The real difference is the absence of Korey Stringer.
Stringer, who died of heatstroke during training camp, will be honored by the Vikings at Monday night's game against the Giants.
"I think it's going to be very emotional," Strahan said. "Not only for them, but for us, too. I've played against Korey for as long as he's been in the league."
Last time the teams met, Strahan had a relatively modest total of 12 1/2 sacks in 18 games as the surging Giants got ready to play the Vikings in the NFC championship at the Meadowlands. That powerful Minnesota offense included Stringer, the huge right tackle who lined up opposite Strahan that day and later went to the Pro Bowl.
Now, Strahan is on pace to break the NFL record for sacks, and neither the Giants nor the Vikings are performing much like playoff teams. But Stringer's absence far outweighs the other stuff.
"It's almost like denial," Strahan said. "It's hard to believe that he's not there and that he's not going to be there. It's a little weird to watch film and not see Korey or to get ready for the game and know that I have some comfort level with who I'm playing against, because he's the fixture that was supposed to be there for the next 10 years.
"To not have that, it definitely does affect you a little bit."
A moment of silence will be held before the game, and a video tribute to Stringer's career will be shown at halftime before his No. 77 jersey is retired.
"Korey was a special player," said Chris Liwienski, Stringer's replacement at right tackle who has the tough task on Monday of blocking Strahan. "I think it is right that he be the last one to wear that number. That's a fitting tribute to one great man."
Despite the ceremony, the Stringer saga will not end with Monday night's tribute. Stringer's widow, Kelci, has announced plans to file a $100 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the team. Both she and Vikings owner Red McCombs are scheduled to speak at halftime.
Although the Giants' 41-0 victory over the Vikings last January washed away the significance of any individual matchups, the Strahan-Stringer battle was one of the most-talked-about aspects of that game in the week leading up to it.
It's just a memory now for Strahan, who has 15 sacks in nine games. The league record is 22.
"I take my hat off to them no matter what their record is or whatever is going on, because they've been through a lot," Strahan said. "To be able to still go out there and function and do as well as they are doing is amazing to me."
But the Vikings aren't really doing all that well. Outscored 89-31 in their last two sloppy, uninspired games against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, Minnesota has had little success running the ball and even less defending it.
Running back Michael Bennett and strong safety Robert Griffith are both expected to return from injuries, and Dale Carter will make his Minnesota debut at cornerback. Plus, the Vikings (3-5) are able to play a much-needed home game -- they're 0-4 on the road. But Minnesota must show significant improvements in its offensive and defensive line play to have a chance against the Giants (5-4).
"I would think that we could play on any surface," coach Dennis Green said, "but it's clear we've played better on our surface. We hope to be one of those teams that plays a lot better in the second half of the season than we did in the first half of the season. We're going to try to rely on that. We hope it's going to be enough."
Giants coach Jim Fassel isn't expecting the Vikings to struggle.
"I think we are going to play a Minnesota team that is a different team than we have seen in the last two weeks," he said. "This is a good football team and they are going to be ready to play. You know that they have a lot of pride in the way they are going to play."
MIAMI -- The New York Jets would rather play a game this week. They'd especially like to play the Miami Dolphins again.
Instead, the Jets have a bye week, a four-game winning streak and a slim lead in the AFC East. The mood in the locker room is reminiscent to three years ago, when New York won its only division title.
"This team is getting its swagger back like we had in '98," quarterback Vinny Testaverde said after Sunday's 24-0 win over the Dolphins. "We feel like we're on a roll. It's unfortunate we have the bye week, but we'll take it to rest and get ready for the stretch run."
That run, alas, includes no more games against their chief foil, Miami. The Jets have eight consecutive wins over the Dolphins, and the latest was the most lopsided yet.
The Jets' typically opportunistic defense scored on interception returns of 60 yards by Aaron Glenn and 63 yards by Victor Green, and the Dolphins were shut out at home for the first time since 1970.
"I'm convinced there's a curse," Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain said. "Those two interceptions -- it only happens to us against those guys."
The Jets (7-3), bidding for just their second playoff berth 10 seasons, overtook the Dolphins (6-3) atop the division. The teams could meet again in the playoffs.
"Eight in a row -- they've got to think, can they beat the Jets?" Green said.
Beat the Jets? The Dolphins couldn't even score against them. Their offense was so hapless that by the middle of the third period the sellout crowd of 74,259 jeered almost every play. With eight minutes left, only a few thousand fans remained.
"To stink up the place in front of the home fans, it's difficult," Surtain said.
It was the first shutout by the Jets since 1997 and their first on the road since 1993.
"If I don't have to see them again, I wouldn't be mad," Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said. "For some reason they're kind of beating us in our minds."
The Jets improved to 5-0 on the road by following their formula of recent weeks, stuffing the run and forcing five turnovers while committing none. The Jets gained just 162 yards, their lowest total in a victory since 1971, but they improved their turnover differential to plus-22 with 33 takeaways, both NFL highs.
Rams 24, Patriots 17
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- As long as the St. Louis Rams have Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, not even a slew of injuries can slow them down.
Despite injuries to five players, four on defense, the Rams (8-1) rode Kurt Warner's 401-yard passing effort to a 24-17 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Warner ignored an injured right thumb that cut his practice time last week.
Faulk had 83 yards rushing and 70 receiving and scored one touchdown.
The Patriots (5-5) sputtered even though St. Louis' defense was missing first-round draft picks tackle Damione Lewis (broken right foot) and strong safety Adam Archuleta (concussion), plus linebacker Mark Fields (sprained ankle) and end Leonard Little (sprained knee). Wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim left in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle.
Cardinals 45, Lions 38
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- At the other end of the standings, Detroit (0-9) remained the only winless team. Arizona (3-6) had just 13 touchdowns in its first eight games before Jake Plummer passed for 334 yards and four touchdowns, two to David Boston.
It was the sixth consecutive time Detroit has lost by a touchdown or less.
49ers 25, Panthers 22, OT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Jose Cortez's 26-yard field goal won it, after Jeff Garcia staged a late comeback for San Francisco (7-2).
Garcia threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens and made a 2-point conversion throw to Eric Johnson with 1 second left in regulation.
It was the fourth time this season Garcia rallied his team to either win or tie a game in the waning moments. The 49ers are 3-1 in overtime. Garcia finished 34-for-54 for 305 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Carolina (1-9) has lost nine straight.
Redskins 17, Broncos 10
DENVER (AP) -- Kent Graham replaced Tony Banks (concussion) and threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Redskins won their fourth straight after opening the season 0-5. Graham led the Redskins to all their points.
In the snow, Washington lost three of six fumbles, and had seven dropped passes. Denver (5-5) had six fumbles, two of which were lost, and five drops.
Bears 27, Bucs 24
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Marty Booker caught three touchdown passes from Jim Miller as Chicago (7-2) took over first place in the NFC Central.
Martin Gramatica's 49-yard field goal bounced off the right upright as time expired for Tampa Bay (4-5).
Brad Johnson was 40-for-56 for 399 yards for the Bucs.
Falcons 23, Packers 20
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Chris Chandler, back after missing a game with bruised ribs, completed 29 of 50 passes for 352 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Brett Favre's long pass was picked off by Ashley Ambrose at the 2 with 1:08 remaining. Ambrose also picked off Favre's first pass of the day for Atlanta (5-4).
Favre lost for just the 12th time in 75 home games, was intercepted three times and fumbled twice, losing one. The Packers (6-3), winners of nine straight at home, also lost safety LeRoy Butler to a broken shoulder blade.
Raiders 34, Chargers 24
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- It was vintage Jerry Rice for Oakland (7-2). Rice caught three of Rich Gannon's four touchdown passes, including a 20-yarder with 2:46 to play. Rice caught eight passes for 131 yards in his biggest game since joining the Raiders this year.
Oakland won its 10th straight regular-season home game, the longest streak in the NFL.
Ronney Jenkins scored on a 93-yard kickoff return for the Chargers (5-5).
Saints 34, Colts 20
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Aided by an official's call that could have put Indianapolis (4-5) ahead at halftime, the Saints (5-4) held on.
Near the end of the first half, Peyton Manning ran in from the 33 after faking a spike. But officials appeared to be faked out as well, blowing their whistles to halt play. One second was put back on the clock -- although television replays showed no time remained -- and Mike Vanderjagt kicked a 52-yard field goal to make it 17-17.
Browns 27, Ravens 17
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Anthony Henry became the first rookie since 1962 to have a pair of three-interception games. An eight-game victory run at home for the Ravens (6-4) ended as Devin Bush returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown for Cleveland (5-4).
Baltimore's Shannon Sharpe, who had seven catches for 78 yards, set an NFL record for career receptions by a tight end. He has 669, seven more than Ravens senior vice president of football operations Ozzie Newsome amassed during his Hall of Fame career with the Cleveland Browns.
Steelers 20, Jaguars 7
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Hines Ward had nine catches for 112 yards, his first 100-yard game in the NFL. Kordell Stewart hit Ward for a 28-yard score and also ran for a TD on a day when star runner Jerome Bettis struggled for the Steelers (7-2).
With RB Fred Taylor injured and QB Mark Brunell unexpectedly sitting out with a strained right quadriceps, the Jaguars (3-7) got only Elvis Joseph's 95-yard kickoff return.
Titans 20, Bengals 7
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Derrick Mason returned the opening kickoff 101 yards to get Tennessee (4-5) started. Kevin Dyson caught a 28-yard touchdown pass.
Eagles 36, Cowboys 3
IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Jeremiah Trotter returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown to close the first half. William Hampton returned Ryan Leaf's other interception 33 yards for a score with 2:51 left in the game.
Seahawks 23, Bills 20
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Shaun Alexander rushed for 93 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown as the Seahawks (5-4) spoiled the day for Jim Kelly.
Kelly, who quarterbacked the Bills to four Super Bowl appearances, had his No. 12 retired and his name placed on Ralph Wilson Stadium's Wall of Fame at halftime.
The Bills (1-8) are off to their worst start in 16 years, and have lost seven straight at home going back to last season.
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