GREEN BAY, WIS. – In their most important game of the season, with jobs on the line and a national TV audience watching, the Vikings had Sean Mannion throwing checkdown passes to tight ends and fullbacks and a beleaguered secondary looking clueless in trying to stop Davante Adams.
Two images fully capture the depths of embarrassment: The Vikings longest running play Sunday night was by Mannion, who is only slighter faster than a sloth, and until the final minute, their longest reception was by their center Garrett Bradbury.
The entire performance was predictably hopeless, as predictable as Kirk Cousins testing positive for COVID at the worst possible moment in a season that has gone sideways from the beginning.
A 37-10 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field looked like a varsity vs. JV matchup and guaranteed the Vikings will miss the playoffs, the third time in four seasons with that distinction under the Rick Spielman-Mike Zimmer leadership tandem.
The 2021 Vikings suffered from a failure in coaching, personnel and leadership, which should give the Wilf ownership clear guidance in determining the organization's next move. It's time for a fresh start.
In sorting through the rubble, it's abundantly clear that Zimmer bungled two strategic decisions in preparing for what felt like a make-or-break season.
First, he overestimated his offense's production in 2020 by believing young, unproven coordinator Klint Kubiak could handle being a first-time play-caller when the results have proven otherwise. He wasn't ready for the job.
Second, both Spielman and Zimmer rebuilt their defense on the fly with veterans who did not pan out the way they envisioned, most notably in the secondary.
An offense blessed with high-end talent at skill positions never reached its full capacity because Kubiak appeared overmatched after exhausting his scripted plays, and Zimmer compounded problems with his time-warp love affair with running the ball.
The Vikings entered Sunday's game ranked 12th in the NFL in scoring. An offense that features Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and an accurate passer in Cousins should not finish outside the top-10 in scoring.
Spielman has invested heavily in the offensive line in recent years, but the interior remains a liability. And starting Mannion over rookie third-round pick Kellen Mond on Sunday served as an indictment on Mond, Spielman's scouting and Zimmer's coaching staff.
A short and tense postgame news conference brought out vintage Zimmer. He criticized Kubiak for abandoning the run too soon — as if anything was going to work successfully — and poo-pooed any notion of wanting to see his rookie quarterback.
Asked if he'd like to see Mond play against the Bears next week with nothing meaningful at stake, Zimmer said, "Not particularly."
"I see him every day," he said.
Hey, go get 'em, Kellen!
Zimmer sounded almost cavalier before the season about his roadmap to returning to the playoffs. He lauded his offense and vowed to fix the defense.
Here's the problem with that logic: The offense wasn't nearly as good as he advertised — not top-10 in scoring last season either — and the defense made only marginal improvement. Zimmer's unit ranks among the NFL's worst in yards allowed and rushing defense.
When a defensive head coach rolls out an unreliable defense, there's only so much blame to share.
This is a Zimmer problem and a Spielman problem. A coaching problem and a personnel problem.
The rebuilt secondary undercut the defense all season. Former first-round pick Jeff Gladney's legal trouble cost him employment. Spielman's offseason cornerback signings of Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander flopped, meaning the secondary needs to be reconfigured again this offseason.
There have been more disappointing Vikings seasons, but this has been one weird team. Something seemed amiss from the start. Ultimately, the blame falls on the shoulders of the coach and GM. Their operation, their failure.