MINNEAPOLIS -- A Minnesota judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the NFL's suspension of Vikings stars Kevin and Pat Williams for violating the league's anti-doping policy, but the players' status for Sunday's game at Detroit remained uncertain.
Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson issued the temporary restraining order at the players' request, saying he wanted more time to hear arguments in the case. No further hearing date immediately was set.
The Williamses were among six players suspended for four games for testing positive for a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent for steroids. They have argued that the substance containing the diuretic didn't list all its ingredients, and that league scientists and lawyers had information about the substance but withheld it from players.
The NFL argues that the league's policy on banned substances is collectively bargained with the players' association and that players are responsible for what is in their bodies.
"This is one of the more difficult cases I've had in 23 years," Larson said before signing the order. "If I make a mistake, I've got to decide on a temporary basis which side I'm able to make the mistake on."
Larson said he would make himself available to reconsider the issue "as quickly as you'd like me to hear it." He also said he expected lawyers for the NFL, who participated in the hearing by phone, would take the issue to federal court in Minneapolis to get the suspensions reinstated.
"There is no merit to this lawsuit and we will promptly seek to have the order reversed," the NFL said in a statement.
Both Kevin and Pat Williams, who are not related, sat in the courtroom with their lawyers for Wednesday's hearing, which lasted more than two hours. Both declined comment afterward.
"They'll get back and get their playbooks and start focusing on Detroit," their attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said following the hearing.
Ginsberg didn't claim victory, instead saying, "It's a long hard road. It's going to take a long time for them to reclaim their reputations."
A message left by The Associated Press seeking reaction from the Vikings was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Dan Nash, an attorney for the NFL, told Larson before he issued the order that granting it would be unprecedented and create a sideshow, disrupting the Vikings team and sending a message to other suspended players that they could file similar lawsuits.
"This program [governing banned substances] would be thrown into disarray," Nash said.
But Ginsberg said his clients' case is unique and they should be given the benefit of the doubt and continue playing until the issues are fully addressed in court.
The Vikings are 7-5 and in first place in the NFC North, with the Williamses a big part of their success.
Earlier Wednesday, the Vikings were preparing themselves for the prospect of losing two key players.
"On a personal level, it [stinks] for them. I know what they're going through," said defensive end Jared Allen, who served a two-game suspension last season in Kansas City after multiple DUI arrests. "That's why we're with them. We've got their back 100 percent."
The Williamses tested positive for the diuretic Bumetanide, which can be used as a masking agent for steroids. They hoped to avoid suspensions because the product they used, StarCaps, did not list it as an ingredient.
The league denied the appeal, saying it issued a warning about the product in 2006.
"They're our teammates, our friends. I totally believe what they've had to say," linebacker Ben Leber said. "That's why I think it's just unfortunate that they've had this four-game suspension handed down to them. I feel like their situation is unique. Hopefully things go well for them the next couple days and we get a different ruling."
If the last-ditch effort to block the suspensions fails, the Vikings have a 650-pound hole to fill in the middle of their defensive line.
"Those two guys are a huge part of what we do as a defense, a huge part of what we do as a team," said Ellis Wyms, who will step in as the starter for Kevin Williams. "It's on everybody on this team to step up. Everybody has to do their job a little bit better, a little bit harder. We'll step up as a team and we'll continue to do what we've been doing, keep winning and get into the playoffs."
The news served as one big buzz kill for a team that appeared to finally be hitting its stride.
The Vikings have won two in a row and six of their past eight games to grab sole possession of first place in the NFC North for the first time in four years. They are coming off their most complete performance of the season in a 34-14 thumping of Chicago on Sunday night that included a Williams Wall-led goal-line stand in the second quarter.
And now this.
Kevin Williams is second on the team with 8½ sacks and is fifth with 48 tackles. His good buddy Pat doesn't rack up the stats Kevin does, but serves as the emotional leader of the unit and a run-stuffing demon on the interior.
Together, they draw the bulk of the attention from opposing offensive lines, making life much easier on the outside for Allen, who has 11 sacks.
With the Williamses suspended and end Brian Robison, who occasionally moves inside for the nickel package, not practicing after having athroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, Minnesota was left with Wyms, Fred Evans and Letroy Guion at tackle.
The Vikings signed Jimmy Kennedy, a former first-round draft pick who didn't pan out in St. Louis, Chicago or Jacksonville, on Wednesday to add some depth.
"Those guys are dying to play," coach Brad Childress said. "Unfortunately, if they play, they're going to play because of a misfortune to somebody else. But that's no different than a Napoleon Harris stepping in for E.J. Henderson."
Kevin Williams was promoted to defensive captain nine games ago when Henderson, a budding star at middle linebacker, was lost for the season with a toe injury.
Actually, Allen said, the loss of Henderson early in the season showed the unit that it can handle adversity.
"Unfortunately we're used to having big blows. Losing E.J. was huge earlier this year," Allen said. "That's part of football. We all know that. We can win. We have a good defensive scheme. We really do."
Wyms and Evans have 12 tackles between them this season and the 21-year-old Guion, a fifth-round draft pick out of Florida State, is the youngest player on the team.
"Pat and Kevin are great defensive tackles and we will miss them," Evans said. "But at the same time, we have a great defensive line and a great defensive line coach in coach Karl Dunbar, so we'll just stick to what we do and keep it going."
The NFL suspensions call for the Williamses to miss games at Detroit and Arizona and home against Atlanta and the New York Giants.
Even though Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper's job figures to be easier Sunday without the two big fellas staring him right in the face, he still felt for two friends he got to know well during his time in Minnesota.
"That's very unfortunate for both of those guys," Culpepper said. "They're both dear friends of mine, and I hate that for them because I would love to compete against them. My thoughts are definitely with them, and hopefully they handle their situations the right way and I know they will."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.