They played their final cards Sunday, pulling them from behind their back, from up their sleeve and even from that crease sewn into the lining of their top hats. The Vikings started their best quarterback Sunday against Philadelphia. They finally put their playmaker on the field for the majority of their offensive plays and even popped a surprise onside kick in the first quarter.
Three days before Halloween and less than halfway through the season, the Vikings have emptied their arsenal. They are out of options after a 23-16 loss Sunday to Philadelphia, a defeat that dropped them to 2-5 and made clear they are facing a third consecutive postseason absence.
"We're 2-5, and that's not where we wanted to be," center Matt Birk said. "It's not where we should be. It's where we are. But it's not like they're going to bring in a bunch of new players to start. We are who we are. We just have to keep working."
The question facing Birk and his teammates, however, was more global: Will their continued efforts make any difference? Sunday, neither quarterback Kelly Holcomb, nor tailback Adrian Peterson, nor a few other tricks could do anything to snap the Vikings from their patented losing formula.
Holcomb, starting for injured and ineffective Tarvaris Jackson, completed seven of 16 passes for 88 yards before leaving the game because of a neck injury in the third quarter. Peterson started and played 62 percent of the Vikings' offensive plays, but he managed only 70 yards on 20 carries against an Eagles defense that paid almost no attention to the passing game.
As usual, the Vikings capped their opening drive with a touchdown -- Sunday, it was Holcomb's 9-yard pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe -- but Ryan Longwell's trio of field goals were all they could muster the rest of the way. The Vikings defense, meanwhile, allowed a 300-yard passer for the third time in four games; Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb finished with 333 yards by completing 23 of 36 passes -- including four of more than 30 yards.
As they trudged into the locker room after the franchise's 13th loss in 17 games, the Vikings seemed to have skipped anger and moved straight into resignation. They are down to their last healthy quarterback: Brooks Bollinger is the early favorite to start this week against San Diego -- and there aren't many reasonable options left to tap.
Echoing the helplessness, safety Darren Sharper said, "You have to get some playmakers."
The NFL trading deadline, of course, was Oct. 16, and the draft is not until April 26-27, 2008.
"That is one thing you could do," Sharper added. "Get some playmakers or let your playmakers be playmakers. That is the answer."
But where should they look? Bollinger, demoted to third string after a poor preseason, provided a spark and brought the Vikings as close as 20-16 with 8 minutes, 53 seconds remaining. But the Eagles responded with David Akers' 25-yard field goal, and for the third time this season, coach Brad Childress elected to punt late in the fourth quarter when trailing by a touchdown or less.
Sunday, Childress ordered a punt from the Vikings 42 rather than attempt to convert a fourth-and-16 situation with 3:29 left. The Vikings held only one timeout, however, and by the time their defense forced an Eagles punt, only 15 seconds remained on the clock.
Childress had proved far more aggressive earlier in the game, ordering an onside kick after Shiancoe's touchdown. It was only the third time the Vikings had attempted a first-quarter onside kick in team history, and linebacker Heath Farwell recovered at the Eagles 48.
But defensive end Travis Cole sacked Holcomb on the next play for a 9-yard loss, and the Vikings never recovered their momentum.
"We're just trying to give this team every opportunity," Childress said. "I'm trying to be aggressive. They're trying to be aggressive."
Ultimately, however, the Vikings are beyond gimmicks and trick plays. They appear broken and might not have the tools to fix themselves.
"It's way bigger than one person," receiver Bobby Wade said. "It's way bigger than one coach. We have to find a way, as a group, to accept accountability for what's going on and make a change. It's not going to be one person that's out there, that's just going to lead this team and make it happen."
Not now -- and, apparently, not any time soon.