Zulgad: Plenty of blame to go around after Vikings' latest meltdown
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - One of the biggest surprises of the 2010 Minnesota Vikings season was that Brad Childress lasted as long as he did as coach.
Less than a year after leading the Vikings to the NFC title game, there were signs that players were tiring of Childress. After he decided to release wide receiver Randy Moss following a late October loss to New England, it appeared that might be it.
Childress, as you'll recall, had not bothered to first inform Zygi Wilf that Moss would be jettisoned and this gave the owner every opportunity to make a move with the Vikings sitting at 2-5.
Instead, Wilf came to town to meet with several veteran players to get their thoughts on Childress.
The reaction, according to those in the know, was not kind.
Childress was still the coach the following Sunday when the Vikings played host to Arizona. Jay Feely's 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a 24-10 lead and it appeared certain Childress' days were numbered.
Only the Vikings somehow, inexplicably really, rallied to win the game in overtime. Childress' reprieve didn't last long. A loss at Chicago and then an embarrassing 31-3 defeat to visiting Green Bay were more than Wilf could stomach.
Childress was shown the door on the morning of Nov. 22 and defensive coordinator Les Frazier was named interim coach. On the day he took over, the unflappable Frazier assured Vikings fans, "We're going to make Minnesota proud of this football team."
Frazier was given six games to show what he could do during one of the most disappointing and tumultuous seasons in franchise history and managed to go 3-3.
A day after a 20-13 season-ending loss in Detroit, Frazier had the interim title removed. There seemed to be agreement among players that as the anti-Childress, Frazier would be just the guy they needed and wanted.
They would play hard for him no matter the circumstances.
That's what made the Vikings' performance on Monday night in Green Bay so baffling. On Tuesday, a week before the anniversary of when he replaced Childress, Frazier tried to explain what happened in another embarrassing loss to the Packers.
This time defeat came by 38 points - Green Bay's 45-7 victory was its biggest margin of victory in 102 meetings against the Vikings - in a prime-time game in which there was nothing to be proud about.
Rooting for Frazier isn't a hard thing to do. He's an extremely honorable person and a very good man, but as the Vikings continued to make undisciplined mistake after undisciplined mistake one had to wonder if Wilf had made the right coaching choice.
The Vikings were coming off a bye, they were playing their most hated rival, they were playing on a Monday night in front of their peers and yet they seemed either disinterested or inept. Or both.
A six-point loss to the Packers on Oct. 23 at the Metrodome in Christian Ponder's first NFL start and a three-point victory at Carolina the following Sunday, gave Frazier and the Vikings reason to feel that things might be on the right track.
The team entered its bye week with a 2-6 record and the realistic expectation was that progress, not victories, could serve as a measuring stick for where things might be headed. On Monday night, the entire thing came off the tracks. Any progress that had been made is long forgotten.
The Packers (9-0) are the NFL's top team and have the league's best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, but that can only go so far in explaining how the Vikings were taken apart in every aspect of the game.
Frazier attempted to protect his players on Tuesday when asked if he had seen a lack of effort.
"I really didn't," he said. "Our guys, they played ... we just didn't play smart in crucial situations. The effort throughout the game, when you look at the tape, guys are fighting right to the end to try to make plays and running to the ball, tackling well enough, trying to get their blocks.
"Adrian (Peterson) is running hard. Percy (Harvin) is running hard. Visanthe (Shiancoe). Guys are playing hard, but when you're playing a good team, you've almost got to be perfect and we by no means were perfect in that ballgame."
Frazier is being way too kind.
The three guys he named, and some others, continued to play hard. But when you give up 45 points, including 28 in the second half, it's hard to justify the overall effort is there.
When Fred Evans commits a false start on a field-goal attempt, or Eric Frampton goes offsides on the opening kickoff of the second half, or your team takes 10 penalties, it's hard to argue the preparation or focus is anywhere near sufficient.
Asked if some of this had to come back to coaching, Frazier said: "No question. You look at everything when you have a loss like we had last night. You don't stick your head in the sand and say it was just one thing."
Frazier is right and that's why it's not fair to single him out as the reason for this meltdown.
The current talent level, or lack of it, that has landed this team in last place in the NFC North the past two years comes back at least in part on vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman.
Frazier and Spielman have been entrusted with turning around the Vikings but after what happened Monday it's fair to question when, and if, that might happen.
It's also fair to once again wonder if Wilf wouldn't be smart to get over his desire to have a committee of people run the football operation and hire a general manager to make all the key decisions.
On Tuesday, Frazier emphasized his focus has shifted to Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders at the Metrodome. "We've got prideful guys on this team who want to play well and want to do well," he said.
Those are the same guys who wanted Frazier hired as their coach. For whatever reason, on Monday many of them played as if Childress was still in charge.