Vikings heading home after nightmare season

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 3, 2012 - 9:15 AM

With a sense of relief that their 17-week nightmare is over, the Vikings look to next season knowing holes need to be filled.

Vikings defensive end Brian Robison took a second to give the question some serious thought. A TV cameraman asked Robison to summarize four months of failure and frustration in one sentence.

Here is the best Robison could come up with: "I guess you would say this was a roller coaster that stayed close to the ground most of the time -- so a kiddie coaster."

At long last, this unenjoyable ride has come to an end, a 3-13 season leaving these Vikings disoriented and ready to jump back onto steady ground.

On Monday, as players headed for the exits, they seemed eager to get some distance from the disappointment but also accepted one last opportunity to summarize a lost season.

Percy Harvin acknowledged one prevailing emotion.

"Relieved," Harvin said. "We can finally close this book up and throw it in the trash."

Jared Allen?

"It's an exciting day. It really is. 2011-12 is over. It was miserable record-wise, so I'm glad it's over. We can start building for the future now."

Linebacker Chad Greenway was agreeable to Robison's roller coaster analogy.

"Yeah," he said. "It had a lot of loops in it. There were a lot of upside-down moments."

Not a soul at Winter Park will label this season as a success in any form, no one content with the lack of thrills or blind enough to ignore the monstrous holes on the depth chart.

In fact, outside of defensive end, where Allen and Robison both turned in career years, it's hard to name another position where the Vikings aren't significantly unsettled heading into the offseason.

There are a handful of starters set to become free agents -- E.J. Henderson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Erin Henderson, Devin Aromashodu and Husain Abdullah.

There are former Pro Bowlers whose best days might be long behind them -- Steve Hutchinson, Antoine Winfield and Kevin Williams.

There's a star in Adrian Peterson facing a challenging and uncertain rehabilitation process after major knee surgery.

On top of all that, there's obvious uncertainty at quarterback and the likelihood that coach Leslie Frazier will soon supplement a roster overhaul with some significant shake-up on his staff.

Frazier will meet the media Tuesday to deliver his autopsy report on 2011, with some more detailed plans for the road ahead.

Changes have been promised. But now it's time for Frazier to be more specific with outside curiosity growing as to whether defensive coordinator Fred Pagac will be replaced.

Still, predictably, several Vikings tried to brighten the big picture Monday by drawing on a few encouraging signs from the season. They once again directed attention toward the prevailing locker room unity and the persistent effort this team showed.

There was also the continued assertion that an ability to win close games will bring the playoff picture into sharper focus as early as next season. After all, there were eight losses this season in which the Vikings had the ball in the final 5 minutes with a chance to deliver a go-ahead drive.

"It's the almost, but not quite sort of deal," Greenway said.

Still, every ounce of optimism like that seems to be diluted by a gallon of reality. To that end, the Vikings must realize they finished five games out of third place in the increasingly tough NFC North, showing far more glaring weaknesses than any of their division rivals.

That almost-but-not-quite feeling can be dangerous if not processed properly.

"I just hope we don't fall into the trap that we were so close that [we think] we're close," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "I think guys need to work hard. Because I think that can be a trap that can almost paralyze you -- if you keep getting close enough to think you are not that far away. And certainly you want to keep that hunger, that work ethic kind of mentality going into this offseason. We have a lot of work to do."

Another season on the kiddie coaster won't cut it.

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