MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - It takes a lot to get Kevin Williams riled up.
The big defensive tackle has earned a reputation as one of the best defensive players in the league during his eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings strictly through his play on the field, not by clamoring for attention with bombastic statements or an outsized personality.
After his Vikings fell to 0-2 with a surprising home loss to the Miami Dolphins last week, the quiet Southern star had seen enough.
“You’ve got to play the game,” Williams said. “You can’t just show up, no matter how many guys you have returning, who’s at quarterback, who’s on the defensive line, who’s at running back.
“It don’t matter. You’ve got to play the game. When we realize that, we’ll be a lot better. We can’t just show up and think we’re going to win games.”
The words hit home like a sledgehammer, both because of the message and the man who delivered it, for a team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations after falling just short of the big game last year.
Everything went right for the Vikings last year. Brett Favre was superb in his first season in purple, they avoided big injuries for most of the season and won 10 of their first 11 games en route to the NFC title game.
Nearly everyone was back from the team that lost to the Saints in overtime, and maybe there was a sense that things would unfold the same way in 2010.
So far, it couldn’t be much different. The offense has scored 19 points in two games and Favre turned the ball over four times last week in the loss to the Dolphins.
“I know you can’t just show up to any game and feel like you’re going to win,” left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “You have to put in a lot of work. It’s very hard to win in this league. We’re realizing that. We can’t make mistakes because teams are capitalizing off of that and they end up winning.”
A veteran-laden team is determined to get things turned around this week, starting with a team they love to beat. The Detroit Lions (0-2) come to town Sunday having lost 21 straight road games and 12 in a row at the Metrodome, dating back to 1997.
But this team sure doesn’t look like the same old Lions.
Detroit is tied for the NFL lead in sacks and has lost its first two games by a combined eight points. They had a late touchdown wiped off the board by a questionable rule in a 19-14 loss to the Bears and fell 35-32 to the Eagles last week.
In the past, the Lions would take those performances as moral victories. Not this year.
“We’re certainly not taking any solace that we’re playing in close games,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “We’re 0-2. We’re not very happy about that, probably a lot like the Minnesota Vikings. I think that comes from expectations of the team. We’re not a team that’s just glad to play a close game; we’re a team that expects to win.”
Even if they were the “same old Lions,” the Vikings would still have a fight on their hands. Minnesota has beaten Detroit 19 of the last 21 times the two teams have met, but a closer look shows the rivalry hasn’t been as lopsided as it first appears. Sixteen of the Vikings‘ 19 victories in that span have been by 10 points or fewer, including 11 by a touchdown or less.
“We’ve never taken them for granted, no matter what the situation is and they do always play us tough,” linebacker Ben Leber said. “We understand that. They’re a much better team than they have been in the last couple years. We’ve got to be ready.”
If anyone knows how to handle early season disappointments, it’s Kyle Vanden Bosch. The Lions signed him away from Tennessee in the offseason to bolster the pass rush and provide some intensity in the locker room, and he hasn’t disappointed.
He had 11 tackles in the season-opening loss at Chicago and had 1 1/2 sacks last week against Philadelphia. Last year, his Titans started 0-6 before winning eight of their last 10.
“People kept asking, ‘What’s it going to take to fix this thing?’” Vanden Bosch said. “It’s not a big transformation. All you need is a win. A win fixes a lot of things. When you lose a game and when you lose close games like we’ve lost the last two weeks, the mistakes are magnified. It seems like things are going a lot worse than they are.”