CINCINNATI – At halftime of the Vikings’ loss to the Bengals on Sunday, monkeys riding dogs herded goats into a pen.
If the Vikings secondary had been asked to do the herding, those goats would have busted out of Paul Brown Stadium, stolen a case of whiskey and commandeered a paddle boat down the Ohio River.
A 42-14 loss filled with mistakes, turnovers, blown coverage and general aimlessness may have ended even idle conversations about Leslie Frazier and Matt Cassel, as two months of competitiveness segued into an afternoon of pratfalls.
In a week, the Vikings likely will be looking for a new coach and a franchise quarterback. To get this team back to the playoffs, the brain trust will also need to add a few quality defenders, but only at the positions of defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, safety and coordinator.
The Vikings offense may be one player away.
The Vikings defense needs a squadron — a gaggle, a pride? — plus herding lessons.
The team has allowed an NFL-worst 467 points this year. If the Detroit Lions score 18 points next Sunday at Mall of America Field, the Vikings will break the franchise record for most point allowed — 484 in 1984.
Too often, Vikings defensive backs look like mimes. They make familiar motions but didn’t seem interested in objects.
Safety Harrison Smith is a fine player. Xavier Rhodes, the first-round pick who was injured and did not play Sunday, will be a fine player. Everyone else in the secondary is either a bust or playing above his pay grade.
Former Gopher Marcus Sherels is an overachiever. He should be congratulated for becoming a better player than a second-round pick, Chris Cook, and a third-round pick, Josh Robinson, but his ascendance on the depth chart is an indictment of General Manager Rick Spielman’s roster.
Sunday, Cook earned the Steve Smith Love Boat Award.
The award, which was made up just moments ago by a Minneapolis writer, honors the memory of the Carolina receiver torching Vikings corner Fred Smoot in 2005, then pretending to row a boat in the end zone to taunt the Vikings over the “Love Boat” scandal.
Here’s what is frightening: Smoot on that day was a far better cornerback than Cook was on Sunday. Smoot got close enough to Smith to be able to tell whether he was chewing gum. Cook may have needed a spotter to find out A.J. Green’s jersey number.
The Vikings’ two biggest defensive stars, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, will play their final game together on Sunday. This winter, the Vikings may be looking for pass-rushers, run-stoppers, a middle linebacker, a corner to pair with Rhodes and a safety to pair with Smith.
Only Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, Smith, Rhodes and presumably first-round draft pick Sharrif Floyd seem assured of starting jobs, and none of them is as dominant as Williams and Allen were in their prime.
“I can’t speak for the whole defense, but I’ll speak for myself: This was embarrassing,’’ Allen said. “I don’t know what to say. I still remember the days when we survived on defense around here, and I think that’s the attitude we still want to have.
“It’s not for a lack of effort. Guys still practice hard and work hard. We’ve just got to get it together.’’
Allen spoke for a while in the present tense about the finale against the Lions, which will be the Vikings’ last game in the Metrodome and probably Allen’s last game as a Viking.
Then he switched to past tense.
“Every year, your window gets smaller and smaller,’’ he said. “I think it’s a harsh reality, that it slips away. You can say ‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda,’ but, as a team we let one slip away. I guess that’s where it hurts.
“I came to Minnesota to win a championship. A world championship, not a division title. I came here to win a Super Bowl, and we didn’t get that accomplished. That’s where the pain sets in.
“These are reminders of the failures that we’ve had.’’