SEATTLE – Xavier Rhodes dressed quickly, grabbed his suitcase and almost broke an ankle trying to step over a half-filled duffel bag that blocked the only passage from his locker to the locker room exit.
Not long before, Rhodes had seemed quite interested in making his feelings known, but now he wanted solitude. Asked to answer questions, Rhodes shook his head and said, “I’m already out the door.’’
Which is the kind of setup to which Vikings fans would happily provide a punch line. After another woeful performance by Rhodes, and another big-game whiff from the Vikings defense, should Rhodes be gone for good?
“It’s one game,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “It’s not the end of the world.’’
The question is: Can you see it from here?
A year after going 2-3 in December and blowing a chance at the playoffs, the Vikings started their latest decisive month with a 37-30 loss against the Seahawks on Monday night at CenturyLink Field.
The defense allowed 218 rushing yards and a free 60-yard TD pass, after which Rhodes threw a sideline fit that evoked memories of another December meltdown.
Zimmer is a defensive coordinator by trade and a cornerback whisperer by reputation, yet he again found himself in conflict with one of his most important defenders.
Remember that in December 2016, Zimmer’s cornerbacks disobeyed his coverage plans against the Green Bay Packers in a 38-25 loss at Lambeau Field. That day, the conflict was between Zimmer, veteran corner Terence Newman and Rhodes.
Monday night, Rhodes looked like he was close to fighting his coach on the sideline.
The Seahawks led 20-17 in the third quarter. Russell Wilson saw receiver David Moore sprinting past Rhodes and hit him in stride for a 60-yard touchdown. Rhodes stood at the goal line, arms out, gesturing toward his teammates. He walked back toward the line of scrimmage and appeared to say something to linebacker Anthony Barr, who gestured as if explaining the defensive call.
Rhodes stalked to the sideline and threw his helmet, then approached Zimmer, who said something to him. Rhodes paced up and down the bench, appearing to yell at teammates and coaches. He lightly pushed Barr in the chest and walked away after one exchange.
Rhodes did not take the field on the Vikings’ next defensive possession but returned in the fourth quarter and forced a fumble.
He deserves to be benched. Zimmer admitted that Rhodes needed to control his emotions better but declined to critique his play, saying he needed see the film and that there was a coverage “bust’’ on the touchdown to Moore.
But benching starters is tricky, and the Vikings are too invested this season to allow a tantrum to dictate their lineup. They’ve already set precedent.
When Stefon Diggs went AWOL, they fined him, and continued to play him. When Adam Thielen complained about his quarterback, Kirk Cousins apologized.
Appeasement is the Vikings’ chosen style this season, so if they are going to bench Rhodes, they had better be able to replace him.
Which is possible. Rhodes is having a terrible season. Earlier in the game, he gave up a third-down conversion, and on another play slammed a Seahawk out of bounds, drawing a personal foul penalty.
If the Vikings are going to bench Rhodes, they’d better be sure that Mike Hughes is ready to start in a playoff race and a playoff game.
The better question might be whether the defense as a whole will show up when the Vikings need it. This group imploded during a must-win finale against the Bears last year, and this season gave up 26 points to a no-name backup quarterback in Kansas City; got shredded in a first half against a Broncos backup; and on Monday night gave up 37 points after preparing for two weeks.
Yes, Rhodes is a problem. If only he were the only one.