BALTIMORE – Only the Vikings could make a delayed flight seem poetic.
Sunday, they lost late, then left late, adding inertia to injury and insult.
They blew three leads in the last three minutes, skating to a 29-26 loss to Baltimore in the snow at M&T Bank Stadium, to bring their total this season to five leads blown late in the fourth quarter.
Then their flight was delayed, leaving them sitting around the cramped visitors’ locker room, eating from a buffet and commiserating. Like the barbecue, they had too long to stew.
Xavier Rhodes used crutches to reach his locker. Seeing his swollen ankle, several teammates grunted in disgust. Adrian Peterson ripped Ravens fans and vowed to play on despite a damaged foot. Chris Cook shook his head and said, “I can’t believe that happened.’’ Later, walking back from the shower, he sang Drake’s lyrics “Don’t think about it too much.’’
“I mean, we’re 3-9-1,’’ defensive end Brian Robison said. “That explains it all. After going 10-6 last year, that explains it all. Frustration is at a high.’’
Leslie Frazier may have three games remaining as Vikings coach. What happened Sunday could be used as an argument to retain or fire him.
His team has played remarkably hard. After falling to 1-7 on Nov. 3, the Vikings knew they could reach none of their goals, yet they’ve gone 2-2-1 the past five weeks. Over the past six weeks, they’ve won, tied or had a chance to win five games, with only the Seattle Seahawks, perhaps the best team in the NFL, handling them with ease.
In terms of personnel, the Vikings are similar to many of their peers — plenty good enough to win when blessed with decent quarterback play and coaching.
With Matt Cassel, Cordarrelle Patterson, Rhodes and Audie Cole in the starting lineup, the roster is talented enough to win. The coaching staff may have destroyed the season by sticking with established starters instead of playing the best players available.
With those players in the starting lineup, the Vikings are talented enough to now have seven or eight victories, which would put them in contention for a division title or a wild-card playoff berth. Had the coaching staff decisively revamped the lineup, the Vikings could be heading toward a second playoff berth in two seasons.
Frazier is an admirable leader, but he and his staff make damaging decisions.
With Cassel at quarterback, the Vikings receivers make plays downfield, solving what seemed to be a dire problem when Christian Ponder was the starter.
Cassel has thrown for at least 240 yards in each of his four full games. Ponder and Josh Freeman have combined for zero 240-yard games. Cassel has thrown seven touchdown passes and four interceptions; Ponder and Freeman have combined for seven and 10.
With Patterson playing more at receiver, the Vikings have discovered that they have one of the most irrepressible talents in the NFL available to them as more than a kickoff returner. He gained 147 yards from scrimmage on Sunday without running a play he couldn’t have run the first week of the season. He should have been a bigger part of the offense all year.
With Rhodes at cornerback, the Vikings’ pass defense has improved dramatically. With Cole on the field, the Vikings linebackers are no longer cloaked in invisibility.
Coaches are responsible for putting the best players on the field, then putting their team in position to perform its best. By failing at the former, the Vikings staff has failed at the latter.
“This is one of those situations where you realize, with the parity that exists in the NFL, that games are going to come down to the two-minute drill,’’ said linebacker Chad Greenway. “This might be our third or fourth game where we haven’t gotten the job done defensively at the end.’’
The Vikings aren’t as bad as their record indicates.
That sentence is a compliment to the roster and an indictment of the coaching staff.