Undefeated Vikings enter bye riding high

Updated: October 6, 2003, 7:13 PM ET

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It was barely a year ago when the Minnesota Vikings were stumbling into their bye week with an 0-4 record, and Mike Tice's inaugural season as head coach was off to a disastrous start.

Only a year.

This week, the Vikings are riding high among a handful of unbeaten teams in the NFL, they sit atop the NFC North and they have three straight home games to look forward to when they return from their bye.

"It's sweet," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "Guys need to lick their wounds, get some rest and get ready for the next three home games."

But even with a 5-0 record, Tice knows some people still don't think his Vikings, who've beaten only one team with a winning record, are a good football team.

And he agrees.

"There should be doubt. We haven't played anybody, expect for Green Bay, with a winning record," Tice said Monday. "I think we have to prove ourselves against the teams with winning records, playoff-caliber teams."

They'll get the chance soon enough.

Minnesota hosts Denver next weekend. Then it's the New York Giants and the rematch against the division-rival Packers.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Tice said.

The players were given three days off starting Monday. They'll practice in pads Thursday before scattering again for the weekend. Tice said the team won't begin preparing for Denver until next week.

The Vikings were able to bounce back from a sloppy first half Sunday against Atlanta and score 27 unanswered points en route to a 39-26 victory.

"We had a little adversity, but we also showed a little character," safety Corey Chavous said.

But it's highly unlikely they'd be able to get away with a sloppy start against the Broncos, who would have beaten Kansas City, the league's other 5-0 team after Sunday, if not for Dante Hall's touchdown off a punt return.

Tice called Sunday's first half the worst half of football Minnesota has played this season.

"Dumb penalties, dropped passes, defensive offsides, personal foul calls, just not smart football," he said.

But even Tice, the towering coach who can make players feel like dirt with the best of them, couldn't keep from cracking a smile as he read off a few statistics Monday.

The Vikings have won eight straight games dating back to last season, including five straight on the road. They also lead the league with 13 interceptions and are tied for the lead with a plus-10 turnover ratio.

Last year, they were last in the NFL in that category.

"That's quite a sway from one year to the next," Tice said.

Only a year.

------=

^EXTRA POINTS: Tice said Daunte Culpepper wouldn't practice Thursday. Culpepper missed his second straight game on Sunday with three small broken bones in his lower back. "Right now rest is what's going to heal that up," Tice said. "He doesn't need practice." ... In other injury news, LB E.J. Henderson was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday after straining his right shoulder against the Falcons. C Matt Birk suffered a mild sprained ankle, but didn't come out of the game. LB Henri Crockett sustained a concussion but returned for the second half. ... TE Byron Chamberlain, who the Vikings released after he returned from a four-game suspension overweight, signed with the Washington Redskins on Monday.

------=

^OVERHEARD:@ The coaches will be given Tuesday off, but Tice won't be surprised if defensive coordinator George O'Leary shows up to work anyway. "Hopefully we can keep O'Leary out of the office, but he doesn't have a life, so it will be hard to do," he said.

------=

Andres Ybarra can be reached at aybarra(at).org.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index