They cheered. Then they cheered again, and again, and then room quieted and the door to the Carolina Panthers locker room opened, and an underling explained the lull.
The Panthers were giving out game balls. Then they ran out.
When you’re the Vikings, and you play the Panthers at the Metrodome, and they run out of rewards for their best performers, you may want to start planning your minicamps.
On Nov. 21, 2010, a good Packers team came to the Metrodome and beat the Vikings 31-3 and, that suddenly, one season after narrowly missing the Super Bowl, it was all over for Brad Childress.
On Oct 13, 2013, a mediocre Panthers team came to the Metrodome and beat the Vikings 35-10. Suddenly, one season after making the playoffs, nobody in a decisionmaking role in the Vikings organization should feel safe.
The roster was healthy. The team was coming off a bye week, usually an advantage for an adept coaching staff. The opponent was coming off a 22-6 loss to Arizona. The Vikings knew a victory could propel them into contention.
Instead, the Vikings offered their most pathetic performance since the day that got Childress fired, failing in every way a football team can fail.
“I think it might be the worst home loss I’ve experienced in my career,” defensive end Jared Allen said.
Once proud of their line play and old-school style, the Vikings on Sunday were physically whipped, getting outrushed 131 yards to 75.
“We got our butts kicked,” Allen said.
They were outcoached, with the Panthers exposing the Vikings secondary and using creative play calls to extend drives.
“I don’t judge that,” Allen said when questioned about the Vikings’ in-game coaching. “I just play the call that’s called. The head coach will have to look at that, and ownership and the GM will have to focus on that. Something’s not right, I’ll tell you that right now.”
They were undisciplined, nullifying several of their few positive plays with penalties.
“Every time we made a good play, it seemed,” Allen said.
At 1-4 during the easier portion of their schedule, they now can be declared one of the worst teams in football.
“Defensively, we are struggling right now, and it’s embarrassing because we have some talent on this team,” Allen said. “Maybe I’m crazy, maybe I think we can still play like we did in 2008 and 2009. Maybe the times have changed and I haven’t changed with them. But this is ridiculous.”
So where did it all go wrong for a team that made the playoffs last year and looked like it was building a first-class operation?
The failure begins with the decision to allow cornerback Antoine Winfield to depart, leaving the Vikings with one of the worst sets of cornerbacks in the league.
“Winfield is a huge part of our defense,” Allen said. “Always has been.”
The Vikings compounded the Winfield mistake by relying on Josh Robinson, a second-round pick who might rank as the worst cornerback in the NFL.
The team invested even more faith and hope in former second-round cornerback Chris Cook, who has spent this season reminding his bosses of his two greatest flaws: an inability to stay healthy, and an inability to create turnovers.
To develop a theme, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who has excelled with most of his first-round picks, reached for Christian Ponder in 2011. While Ponder had nothing to do with Sunday’s debacle, uncertainty at the quarterback position is one of the Vikings’ most important problems.
Leslie Frazier is culpable, too. The head coach is always culpable when a team doesn’t play hard or intelligently. Perhaps more important, Frazier, as a first-time NFL coach, needed to build a strong staff. He has hired three coordinators — Fred Pagac and Alan Williams on defense, and Bill Musgrave on offense. All have failed.
With the competitive portion of the Vikings’ season ending about 1 p.m. Sunday, the Vikings are free to plan. If Josh Freeman can establish himself as the quarterback of the future, the Vikings should be able to invest a high first-round draft pick on their defense in April.
“When you lose, heads roll,” Allen said. “That’s just the way it is.”