Less than two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings were one play away from the Super Bowl, with a talent-rich roster that made them the unquestioned class of the NFC North.
Fast forward to 2011, and they are limping through a second straight miserable season, with the gap between them and the rest of the division widening by the day.
The Vikings lost 45-7 at Lambeau Field on Monday night to drop to 2-7. They have lost nine straight games to division opponents, including a combined score of 84-17 in trips to Chicago and Green Bay this season.
They lack depth and have question marks at every position besides running back and defensive end and appear destined to finish in last place in the North for the second straight season. That hasn't happened since the NFL went to the division format in 1967.
For a proud franchise with a history of being competitive, the plummeting is a difficult reality to grasp.
"Just disgusted," defensive end Jared Allen said Monday night. "I mean 45-7, are you kidding me? I haven't lost this bad since I don't know when. I don't know. We've got some issues we've got to get cleaned up. We've got to play better. They throttled us out there."
To make matters worse, the Vikings lost cornerback Antoine Winfield to a season-ending clavicle injury. Winfield will have surgery this week, further decimating a secondary that was already short-handed.
Cornerback Chris Cook is not with the team while he works through legal issues stemming from domestic battery charges and safety Husain Abdullah's status for Sunday's game against Oakland is in doubt because of a concussion.
Frazier said the Vikings plan to bring in some players for workouts to fill the void, including veteran cornerback Benny Sapp.
Through nine games this season, the Vikings appear to lack playmakers in the secondary and at receiver and badly need upgrades at defensive tackle and every position on the offensive line. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has shown signs of promise, but his rough showing against the Packers—16 for 34 for 190 yards and one interception—indicates it's too early to say if he is the long-term answer or not.
"Any loss is tough, but when you go out and lose like this, it is tough," Ponder said with emphasis. "We can't forget that we were neck-and-neck with them two games ago. We know that we are a lot better team than this and we didn't play that way tonight."
Minnesota's fall coincides with the rise of the other three teams in the NFC North, making it one of the most daunting divisions in the league. Green Bay (9-0) is the defending Super Bowl champion with a quarterback playing so well it doesn't figure to be dropping off anytime soon.
Chicago (6-3) made it to the NFC title game last year and thrashed the Vikings 39-10 at Soldier Field on Oct. 16. Detroit (6-3) has scuffled of late but finally seems to be shedding the label of division doormat.
"There's concern anytime you lose in the fashion we lost last night and even in the Chicago game," Frazier said Tuesday. "You've got to figure out some things and try to get some things turned around and close the gap on those two divisional opponents. But for us right now, learning from this game and getting ready for the Oakland game is going to be the most important thing."
The Vikings did give the Packers a fight three weeks ago in a 33-27 loss at the Metrodome, and they lost 26-23 to the Lions in Week 3. But their performance on Monday night had even the most optimistic of players doing some soul searching.
"Are they that good? Are we that bad? I don't know," Allen said. "Obviously we played with them at home. They were firing on all cylinders, so I guess the answer is yeah, they're that good."
Frazier said they have to look at everything in the organization, from personnel to preparation to coaching over the next few weeks to try to keep a miserable season from turning into a complete disaster.
"You don't stick your head in the sand and say it was just one thing," Frazier said. "I think you have to peel the onion back and just look at every detail if what you are doing and try to ascertain what's the best thing going forward. And that's what I have tried to do today and will continue to do this week."
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