As they begin construction on their roster and on a new stadium, the Vikings are left with a strange mix of optimism and frustration in assessing this season and whether things could have played out differently.
They gave up scores in the final minute of five games, going 0-4-1 in those games.
Those blown leads became a season-long narrative as players routinely lamented “five plays” that altered their season — and now, by extension, their future.
“A play here or there and you’re talking about us being a playoff team instead of sitting here at 4-10-1,” Robison said. “But that’s football.”
Coach on the hot seat
Frazier referred to speculation about his job status this week as an “elephant in the room.” He instructed his players to focus on Sunday’s game and nothing else, and many of them avoided that subject when queried by reporters.
Adrian Peterson offered his public support of Frazier last week and indicated that he intended to share his feelings with the Wilfs after the season. Others stated their case, too.
“He’s been like a father figure to us, one of those guys that you don’t want to let down,” linebacker Erin Henderson said. “He’s not really going to come out there and yell and scream at you. But he might give you that look of disappointment, which might be worse sometimes than getting yelled at or cussed at. He’s always going to be the same way, no matter what the situation is or who the situation involves. That’s something that you’ve got to respect.”
Even critics acknowledge the positives that Frazier brings to such a stressful and highly visible position. He’s a class act who treats everyone with respect and approaches his job with humility.
Ultimately, coaches are judged by their record. Frazier is further culpable because his hand-picked coordinators, Bill Musgrave and Alan Williams, have struggled at times to match their schemes with personnel and have left themselves vulnerable to second-guessing over their play calls, even inside their own locker room.
Though handcuffed by his quarterbacks’ limitations, Musgrave was slow to incorporate rookie Cordarrelle Patterson into the offense. Patterson entered the league raw as a receiver and needed time to learn the system. The coaches understandably didn’t want to overwhelm him, but Patterson is so physically gifted that they should have found ways to get him involved sooner.
Defensively, the Cover-2 scheme requires better personnel than the Vikings possess. And players grumbled privately and publicly about Williams’ play calls during critical moments at different times this season.
More than anything, the quarterback merry-go-round and defensive ineptitude doomed this season. The quarterback rotation created a spectacle that was disruptive and hard to understand. Though it remains unclear as to management’s true involvement in decisionmaking, Frazier reiterated in a recent interview that he maintains final say on personnel decisions that involve playing time.
Frazier’s insistence that Ponder gave the team the “best chance to win” infuriated fans. It was a gamble to sign Freeman and then risky to start him after only four practices with the starting offense. But to ask him to throw 53 passes that night was a reckless move that brought national embarrassment.
The quarterback quandary and loyalty to Ponder proved doubly damning when one considers the unimpressive state of the NFC North this season. Cassel has his faults, too, but the Vikings might have given themselves a chance to jump into the playoff race if they had stuck with the veteran.
League’s worst D?
The defense didn’t dominate headlines as much as the quarterbacks, but that unit was no less responsible for the mess. The Vikings rank last in the NFL in points allowed (467), and they could break the franchise record (484, set in 1984) in Sunday’s finale.