YES, there's an intense stretch coming for the Vikings, one that includes this afternoon's treacherous trip to Lambeau Field. Vegas pegs the Packers as 81/2-point favourites. Which means, odds are, the Vikings' NFC North title hopes may be all but disintegrated by sundown.
But Jarius Wright is just young enough and eager enough to think he can make a big December difference.
"I don't want to sound cocky or like I'm bragging on myself," the rookie receiver said. "But throughout my life, I've always been a playmaker. And I think I can bring that to this offence down the stretch. Taking the short pass and turning it into a long gain or making that deep catch down the field. I know my abilities can help."
That's the thing about Wright. He has an easygoing swagger. Now is his big opportunity to deliver.
With Percy Harvin out for his third consecutive game, Wright will again be in the mix. And not just in the mix, but likely a prominent part of the passing attack.
Sure, it may be asking a lot to expect a rookie in his third game to make a big splash in a division showdown at Lambeau Field. But Wright's confidence has been steadily escalating since his Nov. 11 debut against Detroit.
It didn't hurt that his first two receptions were a 54-yarder and a 3-yard TD grab.
Suddenly, Wright's belief that he could flourish in the NFL had supporting evidence.
With that, his preparation became more intense.
"Not that I wasn't focused when I wasn't playing," Wright said. "But now I'm watching way more film and studying my opponent way more to find my advantages."
In three weeks' time, Wright's route running has improved. He also has been more engaged.
"You can see it in practice," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We're relying on him a little bit more in some of the things we're doing. We're actually putting in some plays directly for him because of the confidence he's shown and the confidence we've developed in him."
Wright's sizzle is something the Vikings have always admired. After all, general manager Rick Spielman was at Cowboys Stadium in 2011 when Wright delivered the biggest game of his Arkansas career, against Texas A&M. Thirteen catches, 281 yards, two TDs.
And in the preseason finale in August, Wright torched the Texans for 122 yards on six catches, including a 58-yard touchdown on a deep ball up the left sideline.
But then came the waiting game. Seventy-three days passed before the rookie saw action again.
"In your head, you know, 'I can do this. I can play in the NFL,' " Wright said. "At the same time, when you go that long on the side and you haven't played since preseason, occasionally it's, 'Can I really play? Am I really supposed to be here?'
"You have to block those thoughts away."
It's like that antsiness that comes when you're still sitting in the doctor's waiting room 45 minutes after your scheduled appointment. Now draw that out over 10 weeks, with friends and family and, yes, legions of random Twitter followers peppering you with questions of what's taking so long.
"A new Tweet every day," Wright said. "And the most came on Sundays when I wasn't active. People needed to know: 'Why aren't they playing you? Why aren't you in the lineup?' Well, it's not up to me."
The coaches explained their stance, believing Wright functioned in a role too similar to Harvin to climb over the dynamic playmaker on the depth chart. They also wanted Wright to be crisper with his routes, more reliable with his hands and dependable as a blocker.
Wright accepted the decision but struggled initially to translate it for his parents, who had seen him as a standout his whole life. "To them, I've always been a starter," Wright said. "So they were more frustrated than me."
And yet, the rookie said, his parents' faith played a big part in keeping him patient. "They kept me positive and kept telling me, 'Be ready when you get your chance. It's gonna come."
It's here now.
-- Star Tribune (Minneapolis)