GREEN BAY, WIS. - The volume on the two TVs had been muted, but the pictures, strangely, had not yet been shut off. So as Leslie Frazier came to deliver his postgame news conference in a small Lambeau Field interview room late Saturday, he literally had Green Bay's 24-10 playoff victory hanging over his head.
A local Green Bay news broadcast had an all-caps banner across the bottom of its screen -- "PACKERS WIN!" -- plus images of coach Mike McCarthy laughing with reporters and reveling in his team's dominance.
It presented a surreal backdrop for Frazier as he spent eight minutes attempting to recap his previous five hours -- from the Vikings' surprise pregame deactivation of quarterback Christian Ponder to the woes of backup Joe Webb to a flurry of costly mental mistakes that resulted in uncharacteristic penalties and turnovers.
Frazier seemed somber, maybe a bit dejected. These are the inevitable emotions attached to most season-ending losses, especially one as lopsided as Saturday's.
But even with the disappointment, the Vikings coach made sure not to lose sight of the contagious ambition that had given his underdog team its playoff opportunity.
"These guys never let anyone put limitations on what they could achieve," Frazier said. "They played as hard as they could and tried to do the very best they could to give us a chance to win."
Just a few minutes earlier, in a hushed locker room, Frazier filled his final postgame address with pride. He thanked his players for their class, sacrifice and intelligence, a few of the top qualities he wants all his teams to embody.
He reminded them they had all been privileged to work with one another. And he hoped their 2012 resurgence had left them fulfilled.
"You guys are special, man," Frazier told the team. "You never worried about what anybody else had to say. And you never let anybody put a ceiling on what you could or couldn't do. And I'm telling you now, that's unique. That is unique. But it says something about every one of you."
For the Vikings, it also says the future seems bright.
Taking it all in
To wrap up a splendid season, one that delivered a seven-win jump over 2011 and a return to the postseason, Frazier offered sincere acknowledgment of the investment, unity and enthusiasm that fueled the run.
This joy ride is over now. And Saturday's final sequences delivered so many twists that didn't fit with the rest of the story.
There was Ponder, with his deeply bruised throwing arm, unable to endure a leisurely pregame soft-toss session, thus turning him into a sideline observer for his first playoff game.
There was Webb displaying worse inaccuracy than a reckless political blogger.
There was Kevin Williams lining up in the neutral zone, which extended a Green Bay scoring drive; Chris Cook whiffing on a key third-down tackle, and Marcus Sherels fumbling away a punt.
Heck, even Adrian Peterson delivered only a double-digit rushing total, a yard short of 100 without scoring a touchdown.
All the while, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his merry band of receivers made the Vikings defense look like the 8-year-old stuck in the middle of an adults' game of keep-away.
Yep, the Vikings' first appearance of 2013 looked so much more like 2011 than 2012. But even with all the mistakes, perspective was needed to process the season as a whole.
Jared Allen made it known that simply reaching the playoffs wouldn't be digested as "good enough." But Allen also recognized the tremendous improvements made to the defense, especially in a young secondary that has some pretty impressive pieces to build around.
Antoine Winfield appreciated the enjoyment this team derived week after week in its quest for improvement.
"The guys we had on this team always fought hard," receiver Michael Jenkins added. "I loved that. That always gives you a chance."
Pieces in place
Now that a turnaround has occurred -- and much faster than outsiders predicted -- the Vikings must avoid the shredder that sucks in success stories like this and spits them back out as sobering setbacks the following season. Just ask the Lions or Steelers, the Jets or Giants about the difficulties of sustaining success. In a blink, key injuries and side drama can send everything south.
Certainly the Vikings have plenty of concerns to address. They're still left to wonder whether Ponder will absolutely be the long-term answer as the franchise quarterback. And if he's not, they'll need a better Plan B than the one displayed Saturday night.
More quality depth will be needed at receiver and linebacker and defensive tackle.
The Vikings must also be firm in their decision on Percy Harvin's future -- one way or the other.
But even with all that, Frazier is convinced a sturdy foundation has been built.
The Vikings are very secure in their identity -- all-in on Frazier's push to have a "smart, tough, disciplined team" that wins with a tough running game and a stingy defense.
There's also an unwavering belief in building around players who are unselfish and self-motivated, two qualities that provide steadiness through skids.
And so the sting of Saturday's loss comes with an easy remedy: reflection back on all that was accomplished with such sharp focus and strong unity.
Linebacker Chad Greenway's lasting message to teammates in the Green Bay locker room Saturday night: "That was a fun run, fellas. A fun run. Every day was a blast with you guys."
Dan Wiederer firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW HIS COMEBACK FROM A MAJOR KNEE INJURY IN THE STAR TRIBUNE'S NEW E-BOOK, "THE ROAD BACK," AVAILABLE FOR APPLE, KINDLE AND NOOK DEVICES AT startribune.com/ ebooks.
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