They reacted with shock, like horror movie buffs surprised to see a man with a knife waiting in an onscreen bedroom.
Adrian Peterson said he could have cried.
Kevin Williams called it "disgusting.''
Their latest loss, a 22-17 decision to a woeful Chiefs team on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, left the Vikings 0-4 this season and Leslie Frazier winless as a full-fledged head coach.
"It's a horrible feeling,'' Peterson said. "That's the only word I can come up with.''
The players kept looking around the locker room Sunday afternoon, wondering how so many stars could be star-crossed, how such a decorated team could go unrewarded through the first weekend in October.
These players remember whipping Dallas in the playoffs two years ago and outgaining New Orleans before a dozen mistakes cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. They count Pro Bowl appearances and big-money contracts and assume they're better than they have shown.
"I feel like we have what it takes to be a championship team,'' Peterson said. "Have we showed that in four weeks? No, we haven't. But I'm going to tell you this: I'm going to do everything in my power ... to get this thing turned around.''
This is the only attitude available to a proud player. I'll fix this. We'll fix this. It's a matter of will. But winning football games requires planning and synchronization -- not just talent, but the right kind of talent at the right level of maturity and in the right positions. As the Vikings have lost their first four games, they have reminded us not only that this is a flawed team but that this has been a flawed team for more than a year now.
Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Vikings are 6-14. There are 32 teams in the NFL. Only two have won fewer games than the Vikings in this time: the Broncos (five) and the Panthers (three).
The Vikings keep saying they are better than they have demonstrated, but they might be so only in the section of the brain that fosters long-term memory.
"We've got to get ourselves together and go on a run,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said.
They spoke bravely Sunday of righting their season, but only one team since 1990 has lost its first four games and qualified for the playoffs -- the 1992 Chargers. The Vikings have as much chance of making the playoffs as they do of having their team bus struck by lightning.
So before the leaves have fallen, the Vikings are faced with a question that only Yogi Berra would ask and that no one in the locker room seems capable of answering:
Now that the season's over, what do you do the rest of the season?
Logic dictates changing quarterbacks, tweaking the offense, preparing the team to compete in 2012.
Politics and personalities won't allow the Vikings to do that.
Their owners don't want to see a noncompetitive team on the field as they pursue a new stadium.
Their coaches don't want to see their records clouded by rebuilding.
Frazier wants to win to prove himself. His assistants need to win to prove that their schemes and skills are worthy of employment.
And while the franchise would be best off with the highest possible draft pick resulting from the worst possible record, there are too many prideful veteran players in the locker room for us to expect white flags and patience.
The team has just awarded large long-term contracts to Peterson and Greenway. The likes of Antoine Winfield, E.J. Henderson, Steve Hutchinson, Jim Kleinsasser, Jared Allen and Williams are on the back side of prime, and Percy Harvin, whatever his practice habits, competes on game days like he was launched from a particle accelerator.
This is the Vikings' predicament: They're too proud to surrender, not good enough to contend.
"We've got to reevaluate everything,'' Frazier said. "When you're 0-4, you can't stick with the status quo.''
"I hate losing,'' Peterson said.
Apparently, you never get used to it. Even with practice.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org