The Minnesota Vikings are still mathematically alive for a playoff berth this year. They probably will be, for the next several weeks.
Realistically speaking however, the Vikings are not going to the playoffs this January, and are best served looking toward the future. When the Vikings' record sank to 2-5 with the loss in New England a couple of weeks ago, the writing was on the wall. With this past Sunday's 27-13 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears, the unthinkable has become reality, that the Vikings who just missed the Super Bowl by the slimmest of margins last year, will simply be playing out the string by Thanksgiving.
A team that entered the season believing - for good reason - that the all-elusive Super Bowl could finally be within its clutches, has been sent a cruel message.
Dysfunctional teams that are horribly managed from the top, all the way down to the field, usually end up as train wrecks.
It is true, that last year - even while swimming upstream against sound football operations - the Vikings did almost taste paydirt. This year however, it is time to pay the piper.
Last year, Head Coach, Brad Childress, was coming off of a division championship. The team had a good mix of veterans and youth, and the draft yielded to them the explosive game breaker, Percy Harvin. There was just one more piece to the puzzle that Childress was uncomfortable with, the quarterback. The Vikings quickly went out and signed Sage Rosenfels to challenge the incumbent, Tarvaris Jackson, for the starting job of signal caller. Still, Childress was restless, he obviously coveted the recently "retired" Brett Favre.
Wanting to put the best team on the field, to give your team the best chance to win, is sound football operation. When the lengths to do so, bypass common sense and reasonable judgment, the operations are no longer sound. If Favre showed enthusiasm about joining the team, and a willingness to prepare just like everyone else on the team, that is one thing. Stringing the Vikings along all summer and then showing up just before the season started was another thing.
An NFL head coach that does not require participation and proper preparation from all of his players is asking for trouble. If a player waffles back and forth as to whether they want to play for your organization, there comes a point in time, that for the sake of team unity and clear expectations, the best thing is to do is to move on with the players who want to be there. A head coach should not beg and plead for a player's services, nor should ownership and/or management allow it. Openly begging Favre to play for the Vikings, degraded the franchise, and sent a poor message to the other players.
An organization that commands respect from its employees, and a coach who commands respect from his players, cannot openly allow a player to dictate how things will be run. From day one, when the Vikings invited the Brett Favre circus to town, the team became willing subjects to Favre's timetable and schedule, not the other way around. When the coach tried to bench Favre in Carolina, the player's say was the final word, not the coach's. Favre continued playing.
Childress' elevation of Favre above the rest of the team, created a recipe for dissension and disaster. A schism, as it was identified by some unnamed Viking player last year, wedged its way into the Viking locker room. As Favre's remarkable season - particularly remarkable given his shaky previous year in New York - and the wins kept on rolling along, the schism remark eventually became just a team joke. Everything was just fine and dandy in Viking Land, until a minute left in regulation of the NFC title game.
As if the "football gods" were angered by what was ready to transpire, an almost certain trip to the Super Bowl for the Vikings was suddenly zapped up.
The Vikings were within field goal range to kick the game-clencher, when first Childress, and then Favre, were each strikened with calamity to bring the Vikings a "clock-struck-midnight" experience. Following a timeout, Childress - never known for his great coaching prowess anyway - allowed 12 men to enter the huddle. Penalty Vikings, field goal range no more.
On the very next play, Favre, in attempting to gain the five yards back to regain field goal range, eschewed a wide open running lane, and decided - in vintage gunslinger fashion - to throw against the momentum of his body, late across the middle. Interception, eventual Saints victory in overtime.
Since the events of that game, things have not gone well at all for the Vikings. Call it punishment from the "football gods", call it "Karma", or call it "reaping what you sow". Whatever you want to call it, poor football operations have now produced a train wreck.
The sins of last season's "recruitment" of Favre were not only repeated in this year's offseason, they were even taken to new lengths. Sending players from camp to Mississippi in order to drag Favre back after another offseason of his annual waffling, was a stunt that would simply not be tolerated by a quality run organization. The head coach even had the assistant coaches lie about the trip to the media. How could this coach have any respect in his locker room from the other players?
The answer to that question has been demonstrated on the field this year. A team loaded with all-stars, even despite Sidney Rice's absence due to injury, should be able to win, and win consistently. Yet, the Vikings have struggled in every single game this season. The atmosphere surrounding the team has been one of confusion, distrust, and distraction.
The schism, last year's running joke, is not so funny anymore. It is real. The Randy Moss fiasco brought the team discord to the forefront. Bringing the future hall of fame receiver in, just to have the coach throw away the third round draft pick spent for him, by waiving Moss after four games, was a move that caught players, management, and the team owner off guard. Supposedly, team owner, Zygi Wilf was so enraged by the coach's sudden unilateral decision, that the transaction was placed on hold for a day in order for Wilf to evaluate whether to keep Moss and dump Childress, or allow Moss to be placed on waivers afterall.
Moss, is gone, and Childress still around. Wilf supposedly interviewed players to see how they felt about Childress. A week after the interviews, six Vikings told the Chicago Sun Times, they would like to see Childress fired. Moss, it has been rumored, said the same thing to Wilf after the Patriot defeat. Not just within the last two years, but in fact, over the course of his four and a half seasons, Childress has earned the distrust of his players, but with his icy persona, and hypocritical nature.
Yet, Wilf has decided to keep Childress, despite the obvious fact that the coach has lost his locker room. The mess that has been created, is not conducive to quality football being played on the field, and it shows. Week after week, less than inspired play has been produced, very notably last Sunday's performance in Chicago, which was probably the worst performance of the season thus far.
Yes, the magical ride of last season has now turned into a pumpkin. The quarterback who put up statistical career highs last year, has now produced 10 touchdowns, and comitted 21 turnovers in nine games. This year is more of what one would expect from an aging quarterback who again skipped offseason training camps and most of preseason. The "Brett or Bust" campaign has gone bust.
Childress put all of his eggs in the "Brett Basket". Now the players apparently have no respect for their head coach, nor a desire to play for him.
The Dallas Cowboys have had a nearly identical season as the Vikings. They too were one of the last eight teams standing last year, and expected to make a serious run at the Super Bowl again this year. Their head coach also lost his locker room, and an extremely talented team came out with one listless performance after another. To their credit, the owner cut his losses, fired the head coach, and promoted one of the team's coordinators who did have respect from the players.
The immediate result from that move, Sunday's 33-20 whipping by the Cowboys over the New York Giants. Instant improvement. Now Dallas, may have something to build on for next year, there was no need wasting the rest of this season going down in a sinking ship.
The Vikings need to follow suit. Fire Childress. Promote Leslie Frazier, the defensive coordinator who has the respect of the players, and move Tarvaris Jackson back into the starting role at quarterback for the rest of this season. Evaluate the new look, and try to develop some momentum moving forward into the next season.
There is no need for the Vikings to waste any more time going in the current direction, Wilf needs to finally stand up and take ownership of his franchise. The great "Brett or Bust", experiment is really over.