Vikings — whiners and all — embarrassed in Chicago

The Minnesota Vikings, widely advertised as a serious contender for the Super Bowl, rolled into the 2010 season on the crest of euphoria.

Today they are viewed as impostors. The bell is still tolling for their head coach, although events on the field in Chicago made him seem less the cause of the Vikings’ floundering than the victim of it. And their $20 million quarterback, a man for the ages in professional football, found himself moved to tears cherishing his memories in a post-game reverie.

Considerably more was needed at Soldier Field, and the Chicago Bears are not famous for sentiment. They also happen to be one of the more notable mediocrities of the NFL season despite their 6-3 record. Yet Sunday the Bears gleefully hammered the punchless Vikings 27-13 to deepen the gloom hanging over their season.

It was their sixth loss in nine games and on the surface might have poured more fuel on the Brad-Childress-must-go firestorm. But firestorms look pretty futile in the wake of a snowstorm back home. And today there has to be more resignation than fury from the hang-Childress posse. Sunday exposed a new problem for that crowd. The coach didn’t throw three interceptions in Chicago. He didn’t lose a fumble and finish with a microscopic quarterback rating of 44.5, and he didn’t transform the erratic Jay Cutler of the Bears into the next Peyton Manning.

But the dismal events for the Vikings have to be recorded for what they were: A football team living on its clippings and deluded by some of its locker room whiners who, as Pat Williams said earlier in the week, don’t have the guts to come out into the open. It is also part of the legacy of a great but declining quarterback who was not prepared physically for the start of the season but happily collaborated with the Viking brain trust in the annual will-he-or-won’t-he tease before rejoining the team. He has given what is available from his aching body and still-powerful arm. Add his competitive drive and joy of combat and 20 years of an incomparable savvy in how to win in the National Football League. But this is not the Favre of 2009.

Brett Favre
REUTERS/Frank Polich
Brett Favre

He can’t be, with his scars and his bafflement over the relays of receivers who have been his new partners in the absence of Sidney Rice. The medics added another just before the game Sunday. Bernard Berrian said he was unable to perform. Percy Harvin was back, spectacular as ever. But Percy gets hurt. And he has migraines. And most of the time he decides to miss practice. These people, folks, are millionaires. On Sunday Adrian Peterson tried to ignite the running game. But the Bears of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers don’t make it easy to run and Adrian went 51 for 17, three yards a carry, for all of his passion and commitment.

‘You deal with it’
When it was over, Childress was asked about his future with the Vikings, which at this point might be described as limited. Childress didn’t sweat the answer. “You deal with it,” he said. “It’s not something you’re happy to deal with, but you deal with what’s out there. My name’s behind the Vikings team, and it all starts with me. So if it [speculation on a coaching change] gets directed there, it’s part of the equation.” This does not threaten Winston Churchill in the annals of oratory. But what else was he going to say? He’ll find out about his future “when I’m told.”

Favre was asked whether he might have second thoughts about returning to the Vikings this year after his prodigal season of 2009. “Had I known it would be like this,” he said, “sure, it would have been easier to make a decision.” But this was yesterday. Next Sunday they play the Green Bay Packers. Losing means the Vikings are all but out of it. Winning means Favre telling the world: “I knew it was the right decision all along.” With Brett Favre, he’s probably right either way.

The so-called out-of-control Vikings’ locker room has been overblown, at least until now, It’s a story line that has been nourished in part by Favre’s press conference asides and some of Favre’s friends in the internet and broadcast media.

But the elephant in the room in all of the fire-Childress speculation is the potential impact of the team’s performance on the Vikings’ campaign for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to help build a new stadium.

Brad Childress
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Brad Childress

It will reach the Legislature in the middle of an economic recession that has forced thousands of Minnesotans to lose their homes or jobs and threatened the savings of hundreds of thousands. The Wilf family that owns the Vikings believes it can make a reasonable case for a strong public involvement in the stadium. The Wilfs are not widely known in the community but have come across as progressive managers of the organization, maintaining trust in a strong staff. One thing they had counted on was another winning season by their football team to strengthen the pitch.  If the season turns into a genuine dog — and it has a terrific start this direction — good luck with that scheme.

Which, in turn, might turn the Wilfs’ sight westward toward Los Angeles. All of this is wrapped in with the Vikings’ debacle of 2010. Unless it’s checked, or unless the club’s fan base finds some excitement to match the new stadium drumbeat, the whole package — Minnesota franchise, stadium et al — could come tumbling down.

New coach?
Childress knows this glumly. The promise of an exciting new coach might be enough to mollify the season ticket buyers — either now or after the season. Childress gets zero hugs for creating excitement. But the annual upticks of his performance as the Vikings’ coach — records of 6-10, 8-8-10-6 and 12-2 last year — has been remarkable. He reached 10 wins two years ago without Favre. He asked his players to be accountable both on and off the field: “Don’t be the last guy who gets it,” he said, meaning they had to behave away from the football field as well as delivering performance on it. But he also became a stiff caricature for the bloggers, and he has no broad public support today.

And yesterday the Wilfs might have watched a young assistant coach turn around the moribund Dallas Cowboys in one week with their startling victory over the Giants.

So anything can happen from here to December, including the remote chance that the Vikings can still recover, run the table and make it to the playoffs from a 3-6 start with seven games remaining. But there isn’t the flimsiest chance of it happening unless they beat Green Bay at the Metrodome Sunday.

The Vikings didn’t fold Sunday, but they never did figure out how to corral Devin Hester’s kick runbacks or to put more pressure on Jay Cutler, who is capable of flying into some traumatic funks when the day turns sour. The Vikings rarely gave him that invitation. He threw touchdown passes to Greg Olsen, Hester and Kellen Davis, and the Bears dominated possession behind Cutler, Matt Forte and the Viking expatriate, Chester Taylor. Favre’s 53 yard hookup with Harvin and Ryan Longwell’s two field goals were the Vikings’ only response.

Harvin’s breakaways,Toby Gerhart’s early running bursts and Husain Abdullah’s two interceptions were some consolation for the Vikings but Favre managed only 170 yards through the air, and there was never any real hope of the 41-year-old quarterback matching his fourth-quarter finish of a week ago against Arizona. So Sunday it’s all on the table again, Favre vs. Green Bay. Maybe that IS a problem with the Vikings. It’s all Favre, all day.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/15/2010 - 10:16 am.

    Early in my Fantasy Football career I drafted Earl Campbell with my first round choice. He had been a running and scoring machine for a bunch of years, pure first round gold. Unfortunately I drafted him the first year he was over the hill, a useless, overpaid relic of what he had once been. It appears the Vikings have several overpaid stars who have moved to the other side of the hill. How much are they paying for each of Allen’s sacks? A million a game for Favre? I’d like to hear a candid opinion from Tavaris about that.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/15/2010 - 11:46 am.

    “today there has to be more resignation than fury from the hang-Childress posse. Sunday exposed a new problem for that crowd. The coach didn’t throw three interceptions in Chicago. He didn’t lose a fumble and finish with a microscopic quarterback rating of 44.5, and he didn’t transform the erratic Jay Cutler of the Bears into the next Peyton Manning.”

    I’m not following you here. If the buck doesn’t stop with Childress, where does it stop? The Wilfs can’t be fired. Sure, Childress didn’t throw the interceptions yesterday, he just hired the guy who did – for an enormous amount of money. He also hired, then fired a guy who was supposed to revitalize the passing game, expending a potentially critical draft pick for a four-game player.

    Perhaps worse than this year’s record is the prospect for next year – assuming there’s not a lockout (speaking of scenarios that impact the new stadium plan). Childress hasn’t just blown this season, he’s created a deficit for next season – by not developing a quarterback, by wasting draft picks and by generally driving the team into the ditch.

  3. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/15/2010 - 12:32 pm.

    Ho hum. Happy I was out in the snow, and not watching what sounds like an uninspiring 3 hours of a game. My silver lining in this is that the public won’t rush to erect a new playpen for this team, and that by the time a new deal is agreed to, the pendulum will have swung even more towards teams privately financing their own stadiums (what a concept!).

    I assume at some point the pro-vikings crowd will start up the “we’ll lose the team”, or “we’ll be the Omaha of the north” refrains. Allow me an early response: OK, I can live with that. Whether I watch a team that is playing 10 miles or 1,000 miles away doesn’t really matter. I’d just as soon not have the obligation to root for the locals. That way, when a bunch of the team goes on a hooker/booze fest, or someone else texts another picture of their anatomy to someone who isn’t his wife, or when the team leads the league in DUIs again, I can just find a team to root for that reflects my values, not my location.

    The patriots seem like a fine current candidate for those looking for a team to support: their owner self financed the stadium, they recognize when stars are fading and painful decisions have to be made (See Bledsoe, Seymour, Samuel…), and they managed to unload a malcontent receiver to a team that should have known better for a 3rd round pick.

    Lets face it- in the days where most people can’t afford to attend a live game, and any team can be beamed into a living room, location really doesn’t matter that much anymore. Something to rememeber whenever the league starts up again after their impending squabble about how to divide the annual 7.8 billion dollar revenue (ah, to have such a problem…)

  4. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 11/15/2010 - 03:40 pm.

    I still believe there’s no good time for a bad stadium deal or no bad time for a good stadium deal.

    Most people seem to think a successful season — a deep run into the playoffs to a Super Bowl victory — justifies a “sweetheart” deal. They’re saying that would be a good time for a bad stadium deal.

    Maybe there’s still a chance for a deal that’s good for the Vikings, businesses, sports fans, and the general public… or maybe they’ll be the LA Vikings in 2012.

    A “sweetheart” deal is now definitely out of the question…

  5. Submitted by David DeCoux on 11/15/2010 - 08:03 pm.

    Let me ask you this…

    If you had a business worth X and you could make the business worth X times ten if you moved to another city, would you? How about if you could make the move and have a bunch of good PR as well? “We tried everything” etc etc

    Personally, I have the feeling the Wilfs could care less about a bad season or two if it makes the transition to a more lucrative market easier.

    I have become resigned to the NFL becoming more of a business focused on entertainment and less about the sport of football. Much like wrestling.

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/16/2010 - 03:11 am.

    The Vikings went for broke last season, and they almost pulled it off.
    Now it’s time to start rebuilding by dumping some of the overpaid veterans. Thanks, Jim, for your usual fine column.

  7. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 11/16/2010 - 08:16 am.

    David… the Vikings franchise playing in a pro-style NFL stadium in the LA market would be worth about $1.2 billion. Forbes currently values the franchise at $774 million.

    Zygi paid $600 million for the team in 2005. I’d guess his selling price will be about $900 million next year, but the NFL will charge an existing franchise moving to the LA market about a $300 million relocation fee.

    $900 million + $300 million = $1.2 billion

    Is there any wonder why Forbes has been predicting Zygi will “unload” the team for the past three years?

  8. Submitted by melvin morrison on 11/16/2010 - 12:46 pm.

    Admittedly, Favre has been acknowledged for three interceptions in the most recent Bears game. However, two of those interceptions were not the fault of the quarterback. Two of the interceptions were the direct result of Vikings receivers slipping and falling down while they were attempting to make a quick cut on slippery turf. The quarterback got the ball where it was designed to go. But, the receiver suddenly wasn’t there. I can’t fault the qb for that one.

    The Vikings biggest flaw is a desire to vascilate between two opposing philosophies. They half-heartedly wish to be a running team, and they half-heartedly wish to be a west coast offence. But, they do neither one wholeheartedly. And, that’s the biggest source of their problems.

    If the Vikings wish to run the ball on first and second downs, they should bring in the two tight-ends, and ram the ball down the defense’s throat. Then, on third and long, they should bring in additional pass protection, so the quarterback can actually stay on his feet long enough to look downfield and make a pass. In addition, they should make sure that anyone who’s brought in for additional pass protection has a good understanding of his role on that particular play. He should pass protect until the whistle blows.

    On the other hand, if the Vikings are more interested in a west coast offense, their play selection has to become more sporadic. They cannot call first and second down run plays if they’re in a west coast system. At least, they should try to call 1st and 2nd down plays that have the best chance of guaranteeing positive yards on those plays. It’s never a good idea to face a whole lot of 3rd and long situations in a west coast offense. For, to be honest, the west coast offense doesn’t really look like it was designed to deal with third and long. So, on third and long, the Vikings should elect to tweak the west coast and put in additional pass protection.

    Neither system is perfect. Both come with benefits and flaws. It’s easy to note the benefits, but the flaws cannot be ignored. Otherwise, you lose.

    That’s why the Vikings have lost. They have only seen the benefits of these systems. And, they have not accounted for the flaws.

  9. Submitted by melvin morrison on 11/16/2010 - 12:47 pm.

    Admittedly, Favre has been acknowledged for three interceptions in the most recent Bears game. However, two of those interceptions were not the fault of the quarterback. Two of the interceptions were the direct result of Vikings receivers slipping and falling down while they were attempting to make a quick cut on slippery turf. The quarterback got the ball where it was designed to go. But, the receiver suddenly wasn’t there. I can’t fault the qb for that one.

    The Vikings biggest flaw is a desire to vascilate between two opposing philosophies. They half-heartedly wish to be a running team, and they half-heartedly wish to be a west coast offence. But, they do neither one wholeheartedly. And, that’s the biggest source of their problems.

    If the Vikings wish to run the ball on first and second downs, they should bring in the two tight-ends, and ram the ball down the defense’s throat. Then, on third and long, they should bring in additional pass protection, so the quarterback can actually stay on his feet long enough to look downfield and make a pass. In addition, they should make sure that anyone who’s brought in for additional pass protection has a good understanding of his role on that particular play. He should pass protect until the whistle blows.

    On the other hand, if the Vikings are more interested in a west coast offense, their play selection has to become more sporadic. They cannot call first and second down run plays if they’re in a west coast system. At least, they should try to call 1st and 2nd down plays that have the best chance of guaranteeing positive yards on those plays. It’s never a good idea to face a whole lot of 3rd and long situations in a west coast offense. For, to be honest, the west coast offense doesn’t really look like it was designed to deal with third and long. So, on third and long, the Vikings should elect to tweak the west coast and put in additional pass protection.

    Neither system is perfect. Both come with benefits and flaws. It’s easy to note the benefits, but the flaws cannot be ignored. Otherwise, you lose.

    That’s why the Vikings have lost. They have only seen the benefits of these systems. And, they have not accounted for the flaws.

  10. Submitted by melvin morrison on 11/16/2010 - 12:53 pm.

    Admittedly, Favre has been acknowledged for three interceptions in the most recent Bears game. However, two of those interceptions were not the fault of the quarterback. Two of the interceptions were the direct result of Vikings receivers slipping and falling down while they were attempting to make a quick cut on slippery turf. The quarterback put the ball where it was designed to go. But, the receiver suddenly wasn’t there. I can’t fault the qb for that one.

    The Vikings biggest flaw is a desire to vascilate between two opposing philosophies. They half-heartedly wish to be a running team, and they half-heartedly wish to be a west coast offence. But, they do neither one wholeheartedly. And, that’s the biggest source of their problems.

    If the Vikings wish to run the ball on first and second downs, they should bring in the two tight-ends, and ram the ball down the defense’s throat. Then, on third and long, they should bring in additional pass protection, so the quarterback can actually stay on his feet long enough to look downfield and make a pass. In addition, they should make sure that anyone who’s brought in for additional pass protection has a good understanding of his role on that particular play. He should pass protect until the whistle blows.

    On the other hand, if the Vikings are more interested in a west coast offense, their play selection has to become more sporadic. They cannot call first and second down running plays if they’re in a west coast system. At least, they should try to call 1st and 2nd down plays that have the best chance of guaranteeing positive yards on those plays. It’s never a good idea to face a whole lot of 3rd and long situations in a west coast offense. For, to be honest, the west coast offense doesn’t really look like it was designed to deal with third and long. So, on third and long, the Vikings should elect to tweak the west coast and put in additional pass protection.

    Neither system is perfect. Both come with benefits and flaws. It’s easy to note the benefits, but the flaws cannot be ignored. Otherwise, you lose.

    That’s why the Vikings have lost. They have only seen the benefits of these systems.

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