Vikings coach Leslie Frazier attempted to calm the waters Monday after several players publicly criticized play calls in the aftermath of a final-minute loss in Dallas.
Frazier acknowledged that he intended to discuss those grievances with his players at an afternoon meeting before the team began its crash-course preparation for Thursday’s game against Washington.
Frazier also indicated that he’s not planning any changes to his coaching staff or play-calling responsibilities after the Vikings tied the franchise record for worst start by falling to 1-7 with a 27-23 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.
“As difficult as the ballgame was for us, those guys will bounce back,” Frazier said. “We have to be able to do that in our profession, whether you win or lose.”
Frustration bubbled over in the postgame locker room as players questioned one offensive play call and the defensive game plan on Dallas’ game-winning 90-yard touchdown drive. Specifically, players questioned offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s decision to call a pass on first down after A.J. Jefferson’s interception with 4:29 left in the game.
Several defensive players also were upset that defensive coordinator Alan Williams rushed only three linemen while dropping one into coverage on four of the nine plays on the Cowboys’ final drive.
Frazier said he respects the opinion of his veteran leaders, but he said he prefers that they discuss any issues or concerns with coaches privately.
“I understand the frustration,” Frazier said. “We were all frustrated at the end of that ballgame. But there are so many positive things that occurred before that two-minute drive. But we’ll definitely talk through that situation as a team and just where we are and what we have to do to move forward.”
Defensive end Brian Robison stood by comments that he made questioning why the Vikings rushed only three linemen on the final drive after getting consistent pressure on Tony Romo with their front four all game.
“I don’t take back anything I said,” Robison said. “I’m probably going to get griped at for it. In my honest opinion, I don’t think I said anything out of line. I don’t think I necessarily threw anybody under the bus. I didn’t say anything that I shouldn’t have said. We’ve always prided ourselves on holding each other accountable.”
Linebacker Chad Greenway joked that the 10-minute cooling-off period for players before media is allowed into the locker room should be extended to a half-hour.
“When you walk off the field with an extremely frustrating loss, it’s difficult to hold your emotions in check,” he said. “Sometimes it just comes out in ways you never thought it should have. The reality is, we’re not going to get anywhere pointing fingers at each other.”
Frazier faces a tough task in keeping his team from splintering as the season spirals downward. The Vikings began the season with high hopes coming off a playoff appearance in 2012. But at the halfway point of this season, the Vikings already have lost three games in lopsided fashion and suffered three other losses after allowing a winning touchdown in the final minute.
“The frustration grows with each loss with everyone involved,” Frazier said. “That’s human nature. We need to put some wins together starting this Thursday night.”
Calling a pass
Frazier largely defended his staff’s play calls in the final five minutes Sunday, beginning with the pass play on first down after the Vikings regained possession with a 23-20 lead. Christian Ponder overthrew Greg Jennings by several feet and the play only took 8 seconds off the clock. Despite Ponder’s struggles this season, Frazier said the coaches wanted to remain aggressive with the game on the line.
“In that situation, we knew exactly what they were going to be in on defense,” he said. “We had the perfect call, we had the perfect formation to identify what they were doing and then it’s just a matter of our being able to execute our assignment. But we have confidence that Christian can make those plays. We have confidence that our offensive line can get guys blocked up and that our receivers can get open.”
On the Cowboys’ final drive, Everson Griffen dropped into coverage three times and Kevin Williams once. Romo completed three of four passes for 34 yards on those plays.
The Vikings rushed four linemen on three plays. They sent an extra man twice, including on Dez Bryant’s 34-yard catch and run. In hindsight, Frazier said he wishes they would have called something different on Bryant’s catch.
“We called a pressure, they blocked the pressure,” he said. “They had some tells from an offensive standpoint that could have helped us there.”
The Vikings have little time to dwell on their missed opportunity, though. The condensed scheduled with a Thursday night game doesn’t allow for it.
“We make jokes about it, but we have yet to win a game on American soil,” Robison said. “We just have to find a way to get it done.”