Remember that overwhelming feeling of hope?
That was the emotion that infected the Twin Cities on Oct. 23 when Vikings rookie Christian Ponder threw his first pass in his first NFL start, a 72-yard strike to Michael Jenkins in a rivalry clash against the Green Bay Packers.
What confidence, the critics gushed.
Oh, the contagious enthusiasm this kid seemed to have.
What a bright future.
The Vikings lost that day, 33-27. But hey, they were mighty competitive with the defending Super Bowl champions, perpetuating a belief that the clouds were beginning to break.
Yet by the time Ponder threw his last pass Monday night against Green Bay, an incompletion to Jenkins on fourth-and-20 in a 45-7 blowout loss?
Well, if hope floats, the Packers tied a 2,000-pound cinder block around it and chucked it off a Lake Michigan pier.
Now what? What was anyone to make of this self-destruction at Lambeau Field on a prime time stage?
During the postgame autopsy, the starting quarterbacks from each side weighed in. First MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers classified Green Bay's victory as satisfying but far from masterful. And scary as it seems, that wasn't just a perfectionist's rhetoric. The Packers did not play up to their potential and still won by 38. Imagine if they had been able to turn the dial up a few notches.
Then came Ponder clutching that last ounce of optimism like a kid who had reached the bottom of his trick-or-treat bag with only one smashed and melted Butterfinger left.
"When you go out and lose like this, it's tough," he said, trying his darndest to find a positive spin. "But we have to forget about it quickly. And we can't forget that we were neck and neck with them two games ago."
Actually, the Vikings can forget about that. And should. Absorbing the worst loss in the 102-game history of the rivalry with Green Bay has to provide a reality check.
With 10 weeks of the NFL season gone, only the Colts have fewer victories.
In a pass-happy league, the Vikings are not only without a dangerous corps of receivers, they may have the league's most unimposing set.
Jenkins and Percy Harvin have 797 yards this season, a cumulative total that still trails five individual receivers in the NFL.
On the other side, the Vikings' pass defense ranks 30th overall, allowing 273 passing yards per game while giving up 18 touchdowns and making just six interceptions. And that was before this new wave of injuries: Antoine Winfield is out for the season because of a broken clavicle and Husain Abdullah is woozy again after suffering his second concussion in four weeks.
With troubled cornerback Chris Cook also likely to miss the rest of the season, desperation mode had the Vikings courting Benny Sapp on Tuesday for reinforcement. That's the same Benny Sapp who was cut by the Dolphins in September after being torched in a season-opening loss that saw the Patriots throw for 516 yards.
Need we go on?
At 2-7, coach Leslie Frazier has the daunting task of keeping players attentive as their season features seven more stops on the road to nowhere.
"We have some guys who have a lot of pride in what they do," Frazier said Tuesday. "They are as disheartened as any of us are about what happened [Monday] night. But in our business, it is so important to put a loss behind you, otherwise it becomes an extended problem."
Whether the Vikings respond to Frazier's direct yet gentle deportment remains to be seen. But Monday night's dismal effort showed a team that lacked confidence and concentration. Now what happens if motivation goes out the window?
"These are professional football players," Frazier said. "And we'll talk on Wednesday about what we've got to do to play better on Sunday. My challenge to them after the game was to stay together. They're pros. We'll figure out how to play better than we did [Monday night]."