Nobody recites his mea culpas with quite the same solemnity and contrition as Leslie Frazier, the coach of the now 0-and-2 Minnesota Vikings.
He faced his interrogators after his team’s soggy but tension-filled 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field Sunday and quietly sidetracked any questions about the mixed performance of his team. The man to blame, he said, was Leslie Frazier.
“I have to do a better job,” he said. “Near the end, there were different things I could have done.”
Frazier was pressed about what specifically he could have done that he didn’t, about controlling Devin Hester, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and the rest of the formidable Bears cast. The Vikings did come within 10 seconds of winning the game.
He said he could have done more. It was a principled acceptance of fault, but probably more a strategic effort to take some of the pressure off quarterback Christian Ponder and the rest of his struggling cast.
From the folks back home, though, he is not likely to hear hymns of consolation. This is a cutthroat business. Forgiveness from impatient fans and critics — for a football man trying to find some stability in his offense — is usually in short supply. It’s part of the multibillion-dollar wackiness of pro football in the digital age.
“I could have done some things differently,” he said, declining specifics. “It was my fault.”
It was hardly his alone, although he may have been partly right. Frazier’s football doctorate is in defense. The Bears Sunday rolled up 411 yards, but the Vikings weren’t far from there with their own 350 yards.
And it went down to the Bears’ last gasp, when the Vikings looked to be home free after their 300-pound defensive tackle, Letroy Guion, stripped the ball from Forte. The play ignited a 43-yard Viking drive that climaxed with Blair Walsh’s third field goal of the second half and extended the Viking lead to 30-24 with three minutes remaining. The victory was that close.
All of the rampant speculation back in Minnesota about Christian Ponder’s suitability as a big-league quarterback, the virtual demands to “let Adrian [Peterson] do it, every play if necessary” — all of that was going to subside, at least until next week. If the Vikings won.
And Adrian did get his 100 yards, although they were massively contested by the Bears’ take-no-prisoners gang tackling. But it didn’t happen for the Vikings, despite Ponder’s relatively strong performance that included a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph and Brian Robison’s 61-yard touchdown return of a fumble.
It wasn’t enough, partly because of the other-wordly veteran runback specialist, Devin Hester, who brought back five kickoffs for a team record of 249 yards. They opened the gates for a second straight NFL victory for the new Chicago coach, Marc Trestman, the scholarly St. Louis Park, Minn., native who may finally have found his niche. This is a man who had spent years in the assistant coach ranks and later as a title-winning head coach in the Canadian League. And today his team is in first place in the NFL North.
Down to the finish, it had been a battle of shifting action both startling and bizarre. The lanky Viking rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kickoff and bolted 105 yards for a touchdown. But at the end, the mathematics was simple. The Bears needed a touchdown and the Viking defense needed one last stop. And it came down to Jay Cutler.
Here is a man of controversy who can be a pain as a personality, given to sulks and moods as a teammate. But nobody disputes that he’s a warrior, and he was the man in charge in the closing minutes after Walsh’s second and third field goals (the latter with 3:15 minutes remaining) lifted the Vikings to a 30-24 lead.
The Bears faced a comparable situation a week ago before Cutler brought them back from 11 points down to defeat Cincinnati.
Sunday in soggy Soldier field, Cutler — who had been intercepted twice — passed 23 yards to Martellus Bennett and the Bears had reached the Viking 16. As the time ticked down, Cutler drove his team down the field. With 10 seconds remaining, trailing by 6 points, Cutler hit Bennett in the end zone from 16 yards out to tie the score at 30-30, and Robbie Gould broke the tie with his extra-point conversion.
Afterward, Frazier appeared momentarily devastated. His team had grappled through the rain and received high-level performances from some of its younger players. Among them was Patterson, who with his length and speed is going to be increasingly heard from both as a receiver and runback specialist. There was Harrison Smith, the punishment-dealing free safety. It had been Patterson who shocked the Bears and the audience by carrying the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown.
Yet the Vikings’ situation as the National Football League approaches its third week may not be all that desperate. Their losses to Detroit and Chicago were both on the road. Next week they open their home season at Mall of America Field against Cleveland, a team not likely to strike terror into the rest of the league. The following week they play Pittsburgh in London, where nobody has a home field advantage except The Queen.
The one game they cannot afford to lose is Sunday against Cleveland.
It’s still early. More or less. One small consolation for the Vikings: The folks watching the telecast from Chicago didn’t have much better luck than the Vikings. Technical problems interrupted some of it. Maybe the producers should have asked Devin Hester for a hand.