CINCINNATI – This felt like the bitter end, an ugly climax to a season that can’t end soon enough.
On the most basic level, the Vikings on Sunday played like a team that already has its offseason tee times booked. They were sloppy on offense, overmatched on defense and punch-drunk by halftime.
As a result, any glimmer of hope that a strong finish might dissuade the organization from making wholesale changes at season’s end likely got flushed down the drain with a sobering 42-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Obviously, today was a bad day at the office,” said quarterback Matt Cassel, who tossed aside all the positive vibes surrounding his recent play by committing four turnovers.
Until Sunday, the Vikings could point to their effort as a sign that the team hadn’t quit on the season or coach Leslie Frazier. Even in losses, the Vikings played extremely hard and made games competitive.
That wasn’t the case Sunday. This game was so lopsided that it deserved a running clock in the second half. The Vikings weren’t remotely competitive on either side of the ball.
“Difficult, difficult loss in a lot of ways,” Frazier said.
The loss meant the Vikings (4-10-1) finished without a road victory for the third time in franchise history and first since 2001. The nature of the loss might have sealed Frazier’s fate as owners Zygi and Mark Wilf contemplate whether to make a coaching change.
Several national reports have surfaced indicating the Vikings already have begun vetting possible replacements. The team’s lackluster performance didn’t do anything to give pause, but the face of the franchise voiced his support for Frazier in the postgame locker room.
“I’m definitely not an individual that’s looking for dramatic change like that,” Adrian Peterson said. “It will hurt if he leaves.”
Peterson said he intends to share his feelings on Frazier with ownership after the season. Frazier was asked about his job status again, and he attempted to deflect that line of questioning.
“We’ll have some internal discussions, but I’ve got one more game this season and I’m looking forward to hopefully coaching that final game and getting us a win at Mall of America Field as we close out the Dome,” he said. “That’s where my focus will be.”
That will require a much better performance than his team provided against a Bengals squad (10-5) that clinched a playoff berth for a third consecutive season and remained undefeated at home.
Cassel fumbled on the opening series on a sack, and things went downhill from there, save for one brief highlight on Jarius Wright’s 36-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
Cassel followed his 382-yard passing performance against Philadelphia last week with a clunker. In addition to his fumble that gift-wrapped Cincinnati’s first touchdown, Cassel threw three interceptions (including a pick-six), was sacked four times, passed for only 114 yards and finished with a 32.6 passer rating.
Frazier said Cassel likely will remain the starter for the season finale against Detroit, but his turnovers were killers. The Vikings finished the first half with the same number of turnovers — three — by Cassel as they had first downs.
“The turnovers are always an issue in our league,” Frazier said. “If you’re turning the ball over, that’s hard to overcome. It’s just hard to win if you’re doing that.”
Especially since the Vikings defense provided a double whammy. The Vikings gave up 429 total yards and 24 first downs and were abysmal on third down (8-for-14). It was the third time this season the Vikings allowed 40-plus points.
“This was embarrassing,” defensive end Jared Allen said.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton passed for 366 yards and four touchdowns and routinely picked on beleaguered cornerback Chris Cook, who had perhaps the worst performance of his disappointing career.
Cook gave up two touchdown catches to A.J. Green, including a 2-yarder in the third quarter in which Cook also drew a pass interference penalty.
Frazier noted that injuries have left his team vulnerable at key spots, including the secondary, but every team deals with injuries at this point in the season. Peterson refused to concede the fact that his team doesn’t match up with the Bengals.
“You’re entitled to what you think and what you feel,” he said. “The only thing that matters is the core, and that’s the guys in this locker room. Not to take anything away from their performance. I tip my hat to Cincinnati. But I feel like we are definitely a better team than we displayed today. It’s as simple as that. I know people will say, ‘Well, how come you didn’t show it?’ For whatever reason we just didn’t play good.”
And that moved everyone one step closer to an uncertain future.