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Updated: October 4th, 2011 3:29pm
Zulgad: Despite struggles, Leslie Frazier, players remain resolute

Zulgad: Despite struggles, Leslie Frazier, players remain resolute

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - There is zero indication the Minnesota Vikings will be able to stop their downward spiral.

They will enter Week 5 of the season as one of four winless teams in the NFL and are coming off a loss to what appears to be a woeful club in the Kansas City Chiefs.

A loss to Arizona on Sunday at the Metrodome would give the Vikings an 0-5 record for only the second time in their 51-year existence and for the first time since 1962.

This follows a season after the Vikings went 6-10 and finished in last place in the NFC North.

Common sense says it's time to throw in the towel, focus on 2012 and if anything start planning for a top-five draft pick next April. Discussion of whether the Vikings might get a shot at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the expected No. 1 pick in the draft, might not be that far-fetched.

The issue is that common sense often isn't applied in the world of professional sports. The outside world would consider the mentality that permeates a locker room to be purely Pollyanna.

But for many coaches and players it's a matter of mental survival. Give up hope that you have a chance to win and what's the point of going all out? (Yes, some guys are in it strictly for the money but that's certainly not the majority.)

There is none.

The 1992 San Diego Chargers are the only team to start a season with four losses and qualify for the playoffs. That team, however, won 11 of its last 12 to capture the AFC West.

At the risk of sounding negative, or realistic, that type of comeback isn't going to happen for these Vikings.

But while many think about the future, coach Leslie Frazier and his players continue to talk about fixing problems that might not be able to be fixed. Frazier went so far as to say Monday he felt the Vikings were on the verge of turning things around.

"To me it's really about this next ballgame, the Arizona Cardinals and that's where I want our football team to be," Frazier said when asked if there was a time he might start to look toward 2012. "We've got to be at the point now where we're taking every game one game at a time.

"We don't have the luxury to look to Week 7, Week 8, Week 9 and think about plans for then unless, at this point of the season, Oct. 3, we've basically said we're looking at 2012. I don't think we're at that point at all, so that's not on my radar. We really want to concentrate on getting a win against the Arizona Cardinals at home."

If the Vikings fail to win Sunday, good luck finding another game in the upcoming weeks that looks all that winnable.

The Vikings go to Chicago on Oct. 16, play host to Green Bay on Oct. 23 and then travel to Carolina on Oct. 30 -- are the Vikings going to outscore the Panthers and rookie quarterback Cam Newton? -- before getting a weekend off for the bye. The Vikings will return from the off week to play at Green Bay on a Monday night.

At some point, somebody likely is going to have to step in and tell Frazier and Co., that the focus does have to shift to the future. But without a general manager holding power over such matters that becomes more difficult.

For now, Frazier is going to stick with struggling veteran Donovan McNabb at quarterback and continue to remind his players that they held leads of 10, 17 and 20 points at halftime of the first three games.

One could argue that in the latter two cases the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions came to the Metrodome with terrible game plans but were able to rebound because in-game adjustments were possible against a Vikings team that is not very good.

This doesn't mean the Vikings don't have some very good parts - Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen and Chad Greenway come to mind - but overall a lot of work is needed.

Don't tell the Vikings this.

"There are a lot of people saying our season is over, we've got to get ready for 2012," defensive end Brian Robison said. "I'm not ready to do that. I'm not going to do that, I'm going to go out there and play, try to get us back to 4-4 before the bye week and hopefully we can run things from there."

Asked if his teammates feel the same way, Robison said: "If they don't, they're not very good teammates. That's just my honest opinion. If there are guys in this locker room thinking that our season is over than they don't need to be out on the field right now."

At some point the realization will hit home, that guys like Robison and Greenway are part of a rebuilding process that, like it or not, probably is going to start in earnest sooner rather than later.

Greenway, like Robison, has little interest in acknowledging this fact.

"You can't get yourself into that," he said. "We're a month into the season and it's certainly a conversation I really wish I wasn't having with you guys right now. But we're going to go out there and continue to play.

"We had a tough year last year with a lot of distractions, a lot of issues around here and we still had guys that continued to play at a high level and I think that's the important part. It may not be easy to take from a fans' perspective or from a media perspective, but when you're struggling and things are hard to come by that's the one thing you can really fall back on."

It might not translate into wins, but for Greenway at least it's a small victory of sorts.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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