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Monday Morning Mailbag: Keys To A Late-Season Turnaround

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Tough, heart-breaking loss against Dallas. It was a well fought game and it will be a hard one to swallow. After a promising 5-0 start, we are 1-6 after the bye. It can be frustrating to everyone since there were some games that should have been W's. We have to clean up our penalties and score more touchdowns. How do you think we can finish 10-6? What are things that we must do? I still have hope in our Vikings, but it is getting very late in the year. -- Steven Utt, Jr.

It is getting late in the season, which means the margin for error is about as thin as it gets for teams such as the Vikings who are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. It certainly won't be easy, but finishing 10-6 is a possibility and it should be the team's goal. Here is one item to put on the to-do list for each phase of the team: reduce negative plays (including penalties) on offense, clean up some areas that went awry on special teams (penalties, punt team) and figure out a way to stop quarterbacks from scrambling for 1st downs on defense.

Good game, but disappointing loss. I have noticed that when the pressure is on the offense seems to be able to score a much-needed touchdown to try and come back from a deficit. Why is it that we can't seem to do that when we have the lead or more time on the clock? What do think the problem is and how do we fix it? -- Arvind Gavali

It's probably a combination of things, including the offense playing with more urgency and perhaps the opposing defense playing differently than it had for the first part of the game. I am all for the offense focusing on playing with more urgency so that some of these scores happen earlier in the game, but also keep in mind that playing like your trailing with not much time can expose you to mistakes that can set you back, and you don't want to make those mistakes early in a game.

Is there anything we can do at this point to at least get the offensive line to play at a higher level? We have four games left and I wouldn't say any of those four will be easy for us. -- Mike B. Goodwin, SD

With injuries forcing the Vikings tap into their depth and with four games to go, I don't think personnel changes are what's going to make a difference. Correcting one specific problem would go a long way toward improving the offensive line's play – and that problem is negative-yardage plays. More so than the sacks and negative runs, it's the penalties. False starts, as much or more than missed blocks and bad plays, in the red zone (and on two-point conversion attempts) have held back the offense. Eliminating those plays will lead to more success in critical areas and will build confidence for the offensive line.

I feel the best scenario for the Vikings at this point is for the Vikings to take over the wild card spots of the Giants or the Redskins. Can you list the scenarios in which the Vikings could push one of these teams out of the playoffs and take their spot? -- Dylan F. New Jersey

There are currently three teams ahead of the Vikings in the wild card race – the 8-4 Giants, the 7-5 Buccaneers and the 6-5-1 Redskins. In order to secure a wild card spot, the Vikings (6-6) must finish ahead of two of these three teams over the final four games. They must also hold off several teams behind them over that stretch, including the 6-6 Packers and three five-win teams. The good news is the Giants, who are likely to secure the top wild card spot and whom the Vikings own the head-to-head tie breaker, can help the Vikings because they play the Redskins in Week 17. Also, the Vikings can take care of their own business by defeating the Packers in Week 16. Other than that, the Vikings will be rooting against the Redskins in their games at Philadelphia, vs. Carolina and at Chicago, and against the Buccaneers in their games vs. New Orleans, at Dallas, at New Orleans and vs. Carolina.

Tough loss on Thursday. It was my first time at U.S. Bank Stadium. Such a beautiful venue. The Skol Chant gave me goosebumps and it is such an experience. I am looking forward to the next time I go. It is going to be amazing to be the first team to win the Super Bowl on their home turf!

-- Matthew Magone

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your experience at the new stadium. I've been fortunate enough to travel around the NFL enough to have now visited each of the 32 stadiums. There is no question that U.S. Bank Stadium is among the venues that represents the class of the League. From the fan experience, competitive advantage (crowd noise), aesthetic and intimacy standpoints, there isn't a stadium in the NFL that is better.

I watched the loss to Dallas, and as frustrating as it was, I left with optimism. I'm confident that if we make a run and get to the playoffs, we can make some noise.  A lot of noise! One thing is for certain, this Vikings team is giving us their hearts. They want to win and they try their best. Playoffs or not, they should be commended for all they've endured. Proud of our boys! -- Tony Christensen Montana

I've gotten a lot of messages like this one from fans over the last several days and I've really appreciated that sentiment. A lot of people look at the Vikings as a team that started 5-0 and then came back to the pack. And that is an accurate way to describe the current state of the team. Another perspective, though, is to consider the success the Vikings have had and the fact they are positioned to be in the playoff hunt with four games to go despite the insane amount of injuries the team has endured. And more than the number of injuries, it's been the injuries to significant players on the team – starting quarterback, starting running back, both starting offensive tackles, etc. I agree with Tony that this team has showed heart and fight throughout the season and they are to be commended for that. Now it's time to buckle up and finish strong.

View exclusive images shot by the team photographer (IG: vikingsphotog) from the Dec. 1 game against the Cowboys.

Great effort! Amazing defense, offense fell just a little short as we were stung yet again by penalties. But we came within inches of beating the best. They played well for the coach. -- Nicholas Balkou

Thursday's effort by the Vikings was remarkable considering they were playing one of the best teams in the NFL and they were doing it without their head coach. The good news is the Vikings competed with the class of the NFC while short-handed, but the bad news is they didn't win the game. Now the Vikings are tasked with maintaining their effort level and resiliency while also correcting mistakes and finding a way to get the job done rather than falling just short again.

When are the referees going to be held accountable for their missed calls and calls that shouldn't be made? -- Brian South Dakota

Let's remember that missed or disputable calls are a part of the game. Every team goes through that kind of adversity every week, and it's rare when a team can say that it was a mistake by the officials that single-handedly cost them a game. Generally speaking, the NFL's officials do a fantastic job and get it right on the vast majority of their calls. Also, officials are held accountable for their work. They are graded and evaluated by the NFL after each game, just as the players are by their coaches, and the officials with the best grades at the end of the season are asked to work playoff games. There are also changes made to officiating teams in the offseason, just as they are changes made to rosters in the offseason. Don't fall into the trap of blaming the officials for the shortcomings of your team. Every team deals with issues related to the officials and every team needs to play well enough to overcome any possible disputes that may arise with calls during a game.

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