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Updated: September 18th, 2011 8:46pm
Pelissero: Answers hard to come by as Vikings prove doubters right

Pelissero: Answers hard to come by as Vikings prove doubters right

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The only sound leading up the Metrodome tunnel was 46 sets of cleats click-clacking on the cement.

The only sound in the locker room shortly after was one Minnesota Vikings player after another explaining Sunday's shocking collapse the same way.

They didn't play hard for 60 minutes. They didn't stay aggressive. They didn't want it as much as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who overcame a 17-0 spanking in the first half and a 10-point deficit in final quarter to ruin the Vikings' home opener with a 24-20 triumph.

"Anytime I come off the field after a game (like that), my first thought that goes through my mind is, 'Wow, we gave the game away,'" said halfback Adrian Peterson, whose 141 combined yards and two touchdowns went for naught.

"Yeah, there's always room for improvement, work on the red zone and things like that. But giving the game away is a totally different feel, and that's how it's been the past two weeks."

The primary difference from last week's seven-point loss at San Diego was the dominance with which the Vikings operated for 30 minutes, if not the rapidity with which they came unglued.

They went into halftime with huge advantages in first downs (17-3), net yards (284-62) and time of possession (19:13-10:47). Peterson was averaging 5.5 yards against Tampa's eight-man box, Donovan McNabb was an efficient 11-of-17 passing for 153 yards and Jared Allen was almost single-handedly derailing the Bucs' offense with his pass rush.

"It's tough to swallow," coach Leslie Frazier said. "When you play as well as we were playing, to have the tide turn as quickly and dramatically as it did is frustrating."

Even after the Bucs sped 44 yards in two plays for a touchdown on their first possession of the second half, then recovered a surprise onside kick Kenny Onatolu mishandled, Husain Abdullah intercepted Josh Freeman in the end zone to steal back momentum.

Brian Robison's offsides penalty erased a Tampa fumble on third-and-17 late in the third quarter-- the first of several costly errors the Vikings made down the stretch for a second straight week -- and Preston Parker's 51-yard catch-and-run set up a Bucs field goal. But the Vikings responded with a 12-play, 69-yard drive to a field goal that pushed the lead to 20-10 with 9:41 to go.

Only then did everything crumble. Again.

Freeman completed eight of his last 10 passes against the Vikings' soft zone. Allen took a roughing-the-passer penalty. Lorenzo Booker inexplicably brought out a kickoff from the back of the end zone. Cedric Griffin got burned for a 25-yard touchdown from Freeman to Arrelious Benn and Robison doubled out of his gap on LeGarrette Blount's 4-yard scoring run with 31 seconds left.

"We've got to find a way to come out of the locker room and be better," Allen said. "The last two games, we've been pathetic."

McNabb was 7-of-13 passing for 75 yards in the second half as the Bucs ramped up man coverage and cut off the rollout lanes. He threw a would-be touchdown for Visanthe Shiancoe into the ground and disrupted momentum on the offense's penultimate drive by throwing a "smoke" slant on first-and-10 that got batted down.

The quarterback only can bear so much of the blame in a loss like this, though. The trouble is no one seems capable of placing a finger on where the real fault lies, contributing to a mounting frustration level in the locker room.

"It's probably the highest that it can go," receiver Percy Harvin said. "It's frustrating when you move the ball, when you dominate the game, and you still lose. That's tough, but that's just to show you in the National Football League, if you don't play 60 minutes, a team can creep up and take one from you."

Now it's happened twice, and the Vikings are 0-2 for the second consecutive year and the 11th time in team history. They've only made the playoffs one of those years -- in 2008, when they finished 10-6 to win the NFC North Division -- and four times the coach has been fired.

The primary difference between this year's team and the one that lost three one-score games in the first six weeks last season is expectations. Instead of anger, there were words of resignation in some corners about a season that looks more and more like a rebuilding operation.

"Offensively and defensively, we have a lot of talent," said Peterson, more animated than usual as he spoke with reporters. "But that doesn't get it done. It takes a will to finish, and whatever we have to do to add that -- I'm going to make sure I'm a part of making it happen."

If it doesn't happen next week against the red-hot Detroit Lions, the only sound will be a door slamming shut on the playoff hopes Frazier has been selling since the day he took the job.

Belief is all these Vikings ever really had to go on, and now there are more reasons than ever to doubt them.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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