Where. To. Start?

Well, might as well start at the top. Many of you might not remember this, but the Vikings season-preview special section in the Star Tribune for 2009 included two separate artist renderings of Brett Favre. One was a drawing of Favre the conquering hero. It had him in Minnesota, with sunshine in the background. He looked fresh, and he had restored glory to the franchise. That, as it turns out, was 2009. The other illustration was Bad Brett. He was beaten, bandaged, limping, with dark clouds over him. And he was getting run out of town. That, as it is starting to seem more and more, is 2010.

It seems crazy to say this after last season, but the Vikings’ single biggest deficiency so far has been the play of their QB. The parallel between 1998-99 and 2009-10 is startling. Randall Cunningham, brilliant in 1998, was awful in 1999. He was benched in favor of Jeff George, who rallied the squad after a 2-4 start to make the playoffs, where they were subsequently steamrolled by the Rams.

The good news-bad news from where the parallel ends. First, the bad: There is no veteran with a big arm waiting in the wings to save this 2-4 season (unless it’s Good Favre, but we’ll get back to him). The good: There is no juggernaut-in-waiting in the NFC this year like the 1999 Rams. We will never count this Vikings team out until their eighth loss of the season. Just slipping into the playoffs some way, any way, would give them a very good chance to run the table.

That, of course, depends on Favre. Because as truly awful as he has been in many stretches – 10 interceptions in six games, a bunch of them just terrible decisions – and as much as he might wish right now that he’d never come back given the beating he’s taken, the losses that are mounting, the (correct) scolding he’s taking from his head coach and the off-field embarrassment he’s enduring … even given all that, we can’t imagine the Vikings turning to anyone else unless Favre is too hurt or somehow suspended. It’s his mess. His ego and pride are legendary, for better or worse. You can question whether he’s been fully invested so far. Now we’ll find out how he wants to finish this thing.

*Percy Harvin coming down with one foot out of bounds is example No. 700 of how this year just isn’t last year. It was so much like the Greg Lewis-San Francisco miracle that it’s frightening. Desperation play, down by four, closing minute. Only this time, instead of both feet being improbably in bounds on the replay, the call is overturned and the Vikings lose a game that could have been a season springboard. Aaaarrrggggghhh.

*Brad Childress, please don’t whine so much about the officiating. Calling it the “worst officiated” game he’s ever seen is petty. It speaks to a coach losing his grip on a season that hasn’t gone as planned. Yeah, the Visanthe Shiancoe overturned TD was terrible. And yes, those four points were important (though you can’t just say the game would have been tied at the end of regulation had it been ruled a TD because that one play would have influenced every subsequent play. That’s one of our biggest pet peeves in sports). Childress could have saved those four points himself, by the way, had he challenged Andrew Quarless’ TD catch that made it 14-7 Packers. Quarless clearly didn’t have control of the ball when he landed, and he looked to be out of bounds as well. It was a third down play. In any event, this game wasn’t on the refs. It was on Favre. And …

*The front four. Favre is a glaring difference from this year to last year. Only slightly less blinding is the major step back the front four has taken in terms of a pass rush (and really run defense as well). The Vikings had 14 sacks of Aaron Rodgers in two victories last year. They barely touched him Sunday night. Overall, the pass rush has been non-existent this season. The reasons why remain a mystery – aside from opponents not trailing the Vikings so often, thus not being in obvious passing situations – but it’s gone from a major strength to a major weakness.

*Bright spots: John Sullivan makes a huge difference at center, as was pointed out last night on the broadcast by Cris Collinsworth and has been harped upon constantly in e-mail exchanges by Drew Magary. … Adrian Peterson continues to be brilliant, and he and his fellow backs even picked up a few blitzes last night. … Percy Harvin produces momentum-changing kickoff returns, he runs the ball, he’s tough in traffic – he’s just flat-out a very valuable player, and he’s playing at a very high level.

*Bottom line: We had a lot more angry things to say, but we’re spent. The neighbors are probably wondering what terrible things happened last night, why we were saying unspeakable things about the "old man" and we’ll just have to tell them it was a Vikings game, as usual. This thing is far from over, but we really believed that if the Vikings won last night they would have had a great chance to walk home with the division title. Instead, Wisconsin is celebrating a glorious sports weekend and the Packers are in command.

Perhaps our greatest flaw as a viewer is constantly believing in “if.” As the RandBall Better Half said last night, “Every time there is under a minute left, and the Vikings are losing, and you still have hope, I worry so much that they are going to break your heart.”

She’s not wrong.