EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Based on the consensus outside view of the Minnesota Vikings, a 5-3 record halfway through the season is a real accomplishment.
Given the way they started the year and finished the first half, the Vikings felt they missed out on an opportunity for more.
"This set up perfectly for us to put an exclamation point on these first eight and have some days before Seattle and try to eke out a tough one on the road," linebacker Chad Greenway said after the 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday. "Now, it definitely changes your mentality."
With two games apiece against NFC North rivals Chicago (5-1) and Green Bay (4-3) and a trip to Houston (6-1), the last eight games are going to be quite a challenge even if the Vikings can fix some of the flaws exposed by the Buccaneers. They have three extra days to rest before traveling to Seattle (4-3), always a tough place to play.
"Obviously we're frustrated that our record could be better than 5-3. That's a frustrating thing, but looking back you've got to be proud of it," quarterback Christian Ponder said.
There wasn't much at all to take pride in on Thursday.
"The bottom line is they did a good job of pretty much beating our brains in," defensive end Brian Robison said.
In the process, the Vikings lost starting cornerback Chris Cook to a broken right arm, meaning one of their most important defensive players will be absent for perhaps the remainder of the year. The biggest concern on that side of the ball of late has been the inability to finish tackles and keep opposing running backs in check. Tampa Bay's Doug Martin was the latest to find room, tallying 214 total yards.
The player under the most scrutiny, naturally, is Ponder, who has been out of sync a lot the last month and turning the ball over far too much. He didn't turn the ball over Thursday until a meaningless pass on the last drive with the outcome already decided, but he hasn't been poised lately under pressure or able to stretch the field with downfield throws.