The craziest part, Leslie Frazier admits, is that none of it seemed all that crazy. ¶ His vision. His calm. His unwavering belief that his Vikings were on the verge of a breakthrough — even in the middle of a disorienting tailspin. ¶ “From my experience of being around good teams,” Frazier said, “I just sensed we had something going.”
On the first Sunday of December, Frazier’s squad departed Lambeau Field struggling to stomach a 23-14 loss to Green Bay.
From the outside, their path to the playoffs seemed fully obstructed with no recognizable escape. The meltdown in Green Bay was the fifth loss in seven games, dropping the Vikings to .500 for the first time all year. That galling defeat came in a game during which the Vikings squandered Adrian Peterson’s 210 rushing yards. And the upset bid was fully torpedoed when the defense allowed 435 total yards and, yes, when Christian Ponder went seven possessions between completions and threw two brutal interceptions inside the red zone.
Suddenly, at 6-6, agitated and facing a harsh finishing schedule, the Vikings had reached the cliff where the hope for so many NFL seasons disappears.
Frazier might as well have been Wile E. Coyote, 12 feet off the edge, his feet spinning in a dust cloud and his eyes widening at the long, whistling free fall he was about to endure.
Instead? Frazier gathered his staff the morning after returning from Green Bay and delivered a peculiar message.
“You watch,” he said. “We’re getting ready to take off.”
It’s the same sentiment he uncorked hours later in front of the entire team.
“I had seen some things on the sideline, how our guys dealt with the adversity of that day and how they fought,” Frazier said. “And I just felt like we were getting ready to come together. So rather than them hearing me talk about what we didn’t do right, I told them I thought we had turned the corner.”
Oddly, never once did that hunch feel crazy.
“Now I’m sure for some of them, it was like, ‘What is he talking about?’ ” Frazier said. “But I believed it.”
Quickly, so did the players.
“Immediately there was good energy,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “I don’t think there was anyone on our team who doubted we were going to win that next game.”
That week the Vikings played host to the Bears and dug in for a 21-14 victory. The following Sunday at St. Louis, they jumped all over the Rams early and coasted to a 36-22 triumph.
A victory at Houston followed. And then, with the pressure peaking, the Vikings delivered their best overall performance of the year to down Green Bay 37-34.
Piece by piece, four consecutive victories. It was a surge that required so much poise and purpose and was, in big part, fueled by Frazier’s ability to get players to intensely focus on each day’s minutiae without ever forgetting the big picture.
“We were never looking too far down the road,” linebacker Erin Henderson said. “But we also never lost sight of what all the hard work was going toward.”
Now heading into his third full season as head coach, Frazier still has much to prove. To take another step forward, he’ll need to show he can be far better with clock management and that his unifying leadership can improve his current .421 winning percentage.
Last winter, on the heels of that surprise playoff trip, ownership offered only a lukewarm vote of confidence, exercising the 2014 option on Frazier’s contract but not extending the deal further.
As a show of steadfast support, it was unconvincing. And it thrust Frazier into a prove-it season in 2013.
He enters now with total buy-in from the locker room. And if there’s additional reason to believe Frazier can propel the Vikings further, it came in that improbable streak to close last season.
“When you have a coach who stands behind you like he does,” Henderson said, “you take those votes of confidence and you don’t ever want to let him down.”
A new season arrives with elevated expectations and, for Frazier, heightened pressure. Still, the Vikings coach believes greater success can be had.
“The first step,” Frazier said, “is having a vision and believing in it.”