GREEN BAY, WIS. - Cedric Griffin pouted on one side of the Vikings bench late Sunday afternoon, upset because an inadvertent collision had turned an interception into a touchdown. Over on the other end, safety Dwight Smith whooped it up, laughing and flailing like he was on stage at the Improv. Somewhere in the middle, tailback Adrian Peterson was cautiously flexing his right knee, hoping to shake off what could be a serious injury.
This sideline scene, as viewed late in Sunday's 34-0 loss at Green Bay, painted an accurate and ultimately dismal portrait of the Vikings' current state. As they were absorbing one of the worst defeats in team history, some players were icing their teammates and others were providing a sideshow. All the while, their best hope for a bright future was making plans for an MRI exam on his sprained right knee.
Caught by surprise on defense and as inept as ever on offense, the Vikings suffered their worst regular-season defeat since a 51-7 loss to San Francisco in 1984. They were shut out for the first time in the regular season since 1991, ending the longest active streak of consecutive scoring at 260 games. Add a new level of quarterback confusion, and it appears the competitive portion of the Vikings season is over.
Smith said his sideline antics were an animated discussion of specific plays but added, "You can never get too down."What you've got to understand is, for fans and people like that, football is more than it is for players," he said. "This is our job. This is what we do. This is not who we are. If you're at work and you're having a bad day, you're not going to smile or talk to somebody else? It's a job for us."
Could you really blame Smith for taking a philosophical view? After all, the Vikings just spent another week in national ridicule, this time for withholding the paycheck of grieving receiver Troy Williamson. They were lifeless from the outset Sunday, giving up 81 rushing yards in the first quarter while managing three first downs in the first half.
Coaches demonstrated almost no faith in quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who started in what amounted to an unspoken benching of Tarvaris Jackson. Peterson touched the ball on 11 of their 17 first-half plays, and by halftime Bollinger had completed only three passes (two to Peterson) for 7 yards.
Packers quarterback Brett Favre completed 33 of 46 passes for 351 yards, but it was tailback Ryan Grant who put the Vikings away by halftime. Grant rushed for 92 of his 119 yards in the first half -- including a 30-yard touchdown run to open the scoring -- and clearly surprised the Vikings' No. 2-ranked rush defense.
Favre, in fact, misfired on three potential touchdown passes that could have extended the Packers' 13-0 halftime lead. But Green Bay wrapped up the game early in the third quarter with Favre's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee, and the Packers finished with 29 first downs and 488 offensive yards while holding the ball for 40 minutes, 40 seconds.
"Embarrassing," said safety Darren Sharper, whose end-zone collision with Griffin resulted in the Packers' final touchdown, Ruvell Martin's 17-yard reception.
"That's the word," Sharper added. "They're a good team, but they are not 34 points better than we are."
Vikings coach Brad Childress was at a loss to explain how his team could produce 528 offensive yards and dominate the San Diego Chargers last week while all but failing to show up Sunday against its primary rival.
Sunday, the Vikings didn't get past the Green Bay 42-yard line until they trailed 27-0 late in the third quarter. More than half of their 247 yards came in the meaningless fourth quarter.
"The thing I told [the players] is that if they're not ready to play, that's my fault," Childress said. "I'm the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and that win or loss goes after my name. If I was a factor and I didn't get them ready, I'll take that."
The Vikings' postgame locker room was a disquieting mix of resignation and sardonic humor. Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who again sat out because of a strained hamstring, dressed quietly at his locker but proved cheerful when approached.
"I was just a spectator today," Winfield said.
It wasn't purposeful, but his words described his teammates and coaches as well. It was as if they were all on the sidelines, watching -- or sulking, or laughing.
Kevin Seifert firstname.lastname@example.org