Chad Greenway (Brace Hemmelgarn/US Presswire)
The Vikings know they aren’t making the playoffs and know they need to upgrade their talent, but they are hoping to finish the season out strong and improve their outlook for next season and beyond.
At 2-8, the Minnesota Vikings are trying to make the most of a losing season.
“It’s over now. We just have to try and win the rest,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “That can be our only goal, and if it’s not, then people in the locker room need to not be a part of it.”
“I’m trying to win a Super Bowl one of these years, and it’s like another year down the drain,” defensive end Jared Allen said after Sunday’s 27-21 defeat against Oakland. At 2-8, the Vikings are tied for the second-worst record in the NFL.
The effort level hasn’t been a problem, which has only magnified the number of positions that must be upgraded for the Vikings to return to playoff contention, let alone be able to legitimately chase the 51-year-old franchise’s first championship.
Coach Leslie Frazier was convinced enough talent, leadership and experience remained from the team that came within one play of reaching the Super Bowl two seasons ago, so he pushed for the acquisition of veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb and was insistent on a stay-the-course approach after the Vikings lost their first four games.
But Frazier’s tone and message have changed. For the first time this year, he has publicly acknowledged this team’s lack of ability.
“You have to continue to point out what those mistakes are and how they affect the win-loss record, and you eventually get better at doing it with the people you have or you get better people who don’t make the same mistakes over time,” Frazier said Monday. “But you can’t put your head in the sand and say that we’ll overcome that when you know that you’re not good enough to overcome it.”
Not good enough. Harsh words from the head coach, but hardly a startling assessment.
The Vikings have lost 19 of their last 27 games dating to the NFC Championship on Jan. 24, 2010. There is an obvious lack of depth and dominant players among the defensive backs, on the offensive line and at wide receiver.
But on top of that, particularly in the last two games, the Vikings have further hampered their opportunity to win by playing sloppily, lacking focus and producing the kind of gaffes that are difficult to fathom. Those are the kind of mistakes that appear to be fixable, but they’re often the byproduct of a frustrated team playing with a lack of confidence.
“All these little penalties and things, missed assignments and things like that, it’s just a whole connected effort here,” tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. “Everyone is taking their turn.”
Only Carolina and Indianapolis have given up more points this season than Minnesota, and Oakland’s Michael Bush became the first player to rush for 100 yards in a game against the Vikings this season.
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder threw three interceptions on Sunday, but his receivers dropped balls and the blocking in front of him against a blitzing Raiders defense was nonexistent at times.
But then there were the borderline-bizarre gaffes. Cornerback Cedric Griffin was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone. Left tackle Charlie Johnson was penalized on the first snap of the game for a false start—at home.
And after a strong start to the season, the special teams have fallen apart.
Holder Chris Kluwe dropped the snap on a 49-yard field goal attempt, preventing Ryan Longwell from kicking the ball. Lorenzo Booker fumbled a kickoff at his 19 with 1:14 left in the first half, setting up a touchdown for Oakland. And the coverage units struggled with positioning and tackling, allowing kickoff returns of 46 and 36 yards and a punt return of 34 yards.
“What you have to do is control your attitude when you come to work and just bring what you have and continue to try and get better,” Greenway said. “We want to finish this. Five, six, seven, eight wins … why not? That’s the way you have to look at it right now. We have nothing to lose, and a lot of the teams we’re going to play moving forward have a lot to lose.”