An antagonistic crowd chanted GO PACK GO late Sunday afternoon, jeering the Vikings off their home field. Coach Brad Childress was attempting to regain his composure, having hurled his headset and spiked a water cup during a sideline tantrum. Dozens of photographers surrounded the star of the game, who most certainly was not wearing a Vikings uniform.
By the time their 23-16 loss to Green Bay was official, the Vikings had endured historic embarrassment, exploded in multiple tirades -- one of which spilled into the locker room -- and listened as a pro-Packers crowd celebrated it all. Now 1-3 following the easiest part of their schedule, the Vikings can only hope their coming bye week will produce a new direction after an otherwise deflating Sunday.
"We've been having bad luck," running back Chester Taylor said. "All we can do is just come out and keep grinding and keep fighting to the end. We have to stay together as a family."
The Vikings' three losses have come by a total of 13 points, and Sunday they again missed a chance to tie on their final possession. Packers cornerback Atari Bigby ended the threat with 1 minute, 11 seconds remaining by intercepting a Kelly Holcomb pass at Green Bay's 24.
The play incensed Vikings players and coaches, who said the Packers' other cornerback -- Charles Woodson -- committed a penalty that should have nullified the play.
The sequence sent Childress into an uncharacteristic tizzy. "Clearly interference," he said afterward, but it did nothing to soften his reality: With one-fourth of the season complete, the Vikings have displayed no quantifiable improvement from their 2006 performance.
Worse, many of their problems from a year ago have continued.
Their offense still has trouble scoring touchdowns, and passes into the end zone remain scarce. Despite 382 offensive yards Sunday, their highest total since Childress arrived, the Vikings were limited to field goal attempts until Holcomb's 15-yard pass to rookie receiver Sidney Rice with 1:55 remaining. It was the Vikings' only shot into the end zone for the game.
Ryan Longwell accounted for the remainder of the scoring with field goals of 44, 35 and 48 yards. Overall this season, Longwell has six field goals; the Vikings have scored four offensive touchdowns.
They committed seven penalties Sunday -- including five for either false starts, encroachment or delay of game -- and their defense gave up at least 300 passing yards for the sixth time in its past 20 games. Packers quarterback Brett Favre threw for 344 yards and broke Dan Marino's all-time record for touchdown passes with a 16-yard pass to Greg Jennings in the first quarter.
Favre's 33-yard scoring pass to James Jones gave the Packers a 23-9 lead with 5:46 left, setting off a loud celebration from a Green Bay ticket-holding contingent that turned the Metrodome into West Lambeau Field.
"The best thing that we did is we didn't quit," said Holcomb, sounding the refrain most often heard this season. Indeed, the Vikings have had a chance to win or tie on their last drive in all three of their losses. But at what point does bad luck -- Longwell's 52-yard field goal at Detroit hit an upright, for example -- devolve into simple underperformance?
"You hope things will change," running back Chester Taylor said. "You hope that you can make some plays on offense. You hope the defense keeps playing great. You hope you can stay together."
Yes, keeping the team together appeared to be a legitimate task Sunday. The locker room was mostly silent when reporters began interviews, save for a chippy exchange between Holcomb and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, and most players exited quickly.
The bye week arrived at the right time in at least one respect. Childress will give players most of this week off, giving everyone a cool-down period before returning next week.
It's not enough time to start over. But maybe, linebacker Chad Greenway said, it can generate some hope.
"People are going to try to split us apart," he said, "but we're not going to let that happen. We know if we keep getting better every week, we're going to win these tight games. That's how we have to think. We're 1-3, but we could be 3-1 or better.
"Football is a funny game. Maybe you can go through the first four games and struggle, and then the last 12 might be all right."
Kevin Seifert firstname.lastname@example.org