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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Not Focused on Being NFC's Top Seed in Playoffs

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings woke up in Atlanta on Sunday morning with a 9-2 record and a seven-game win streak under their belt.

By the time they returned home to the Twin Cities, the team had extended its win streak and reached double-digit victories on the season.

And, coupled with Philadelphia's loss to Seattle on Sunday night, Minnesota found itself as the NFC's top seed at the moment when the Vikings arrived for work at Winter Park on Monday morning.

Players and coaches said they're proud of their recent win streak and team success, but that it's hard to get too excited as a quarter of the season still remains.

And as for being the top seed in the conference?

"No thoughts. We've got four games left," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday in his day-after-game press conference. "My only thoughts are about the Carolina Panthers and trying to get a win this week. 

"All that stuff is nice to talk about, for you guys to talk about, but for us, we don't talk about it," Zimmer added. "We go about our business."

The Vikings have reached 10 or more wins in a season for the 19th time in franchise history. The last time Minnesota won 10-plus games was in 2015 when they went 11-5 and won the NFC North.

Yet even as the Vikings sit at 10-2 and can clinch the NFC North with a road victory Sunday, Minnesota's focus is on the Panthers, who currently would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

Carolina is 8-4 and has won four of its past five games. The Panthers have also tasted plenty of postseason success. They won the NFC and played in Super Bowl 50 against Denver two seasons ago.

With that in mind, the Vikings sole goal is on getting win No. 11 on Sunday and notching their sixth consecutive road victory of the season, which would be a franchise record.

If Minnesota keeps the focus on itself, outside circumstances such as playoff seeding will take care of themselves.

"It doesn't mean a whole lot right now," said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. "Everybody's talking about how we have the outright No. 1 seed, but there's a lot of football left to play.

"A lot of things can change in the next four weeks," Thielen added. "So we have to just keep controlling what we can control and take it one week at a time."

Added Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: "[The No. 1 seed is] for now. Everyone loves you for now … but people can hate you the next day. We're going to keep working and take it game by game."

Bell sees increased workload

The Vikings offense lost a pivotal piece of their puzzle on the first snap of the game Sunday when backup tight end David Morgan suffered a concussion.

Enter Blake Bell, the third tight end on Minnesota's roster.

Bell played a season-high 27 snaps in Atlanta, more than he had in the previous three games combined. He had played 87 snaps in 11 games before seeing a workload increase Sunday when Morgan went out.

When the Vikings employ three tight ends with a running back, otherwise known as 13 personnel, Bell has to know his usual spot. But with Morgan out of the game, Bell had to take over that role as well and be in sync with fellow tight end Kyle Rudolph. 

"That's part of my job during the week. I have to kind of know everyone's job," Bell said. "You never know what's going to happen, so you have to be ready wherever they put you at."

"Obviously when we have 13 [personnel], and we have me, Dave and Rudy out there, I have my spot," Bell later added. "I go out there, and sometimes our fullback has to play a different position, I'll be in a different position. It's all different, but at the end of the day everyone has got to know all the spots and get the job done." 

Rudolph helped the Vikings with his own blocking Sunday, and also caught a touchdown pass against Atlanta. He praised Bell for his preparedness in a pivotal NFC clash against the Falcons.

"Blake's in a really tough spot. All week long, he has to know what every tight end position — everything I do, everything that David does," Rudolph said. "He has to know his role, my role and David's. 

"He stepped up huge [Sunday]," Rudolph added. "We didn't have to get out of anything that we practiced all week. C.J. Ham as well, played great for us."

Bell arrived in Minnesota the week before the season opener after being claimed on waivers after San Francisco made roster cuts. He was a fourth-round pick of the 49ers in 2015.

The former University of Oklahoma quarterback and tight end said he's progressed nicely as the season as moved along, learning the playbook and improving on the field thanks to Vikings tight ends coach Clancy Barone and his teammates.

"It's been a lot of stuff," Bell said. "You come from another team, you have to figure out the offense and get the protections and stuff that the coaches are teaching. 

"Clancy has done a great job of helping with that with different techniques in the run game and in the pass game. Rudy has been helping, too, with all phases of it," Bell added. "They're doing a great job, but I just have to keep working and getting better."

Bell, who switched to tight end for the Sooners for his senior season, said he still follows Oklahoma football, especially now that the Sooners are in the College Football Playoff.

"Absolutely," Bell said. "They're going to win it all."

Mr. Clutch

Jarius Wright has 14 receptions on the season, which is the sixth-most on the roster.

But the Vikings wide receiver has had a penchant for making clutch plays, as he has a pair of touchdown catches and multiple others that have resulted in third-down conversions for Minnesota's offense.

Wright, who has 166 receiving yards on the season, spoke to the Twin Cities media Monday and said he's more proud that the whole team is playing well on third down.

The Vikings lead the league in third-down offense, and have converted 74 of 161 (46.0 percent) 

"First of all, the offensive line, they're playing lights-out. You can't say enough good things about those guys and the way they play, and how tough they are," Wright said. "The run-blocking, if you watch some of the plays, they're completely moving the line. And if you can win up front, then I feel like you can win anywhere else.

"Case has been playing great; both running backs are lights-out, and the receiving corps and tight ends are all doing a great job right now," Wright added. "So our success [is credit] to, first the offensive line and then our playmakers."

Zimmer was asked about Wright's play and praised both the person and the player.

"Well, first thing about Jarius is, he's a very good person that works his rear end off each and every week," Zimmer said. "He's got good speed, he's got good quickness, catches the ball good. He's a tough competitor.

"Whenever he gets the opportunity to go in, he knows all the receiver positions if he needs to be," Zimmer added. "He's just a guy that loves to go out there and get a chance to play, and when he does, he usually makes a play."

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