No ‘come-to-Jesus' talk yet for 0-3 Vikings

The Vikings haven't had a big veteran speech issued yet, like they did last year when Antoine Winfield was concerned about the team's direction, even after a win.

Despite a 0-3 start to the season that has left players admittedly surprised, the Vikings haven't had a big talk from a veteran player yet, safety Harrison Smith said.

"There hasn't been like a come-to-Jesus talk or anything yet," Smith said. "I think a lot of guys, we all want the same goal, so I don't know what might happen."

Last year, the Vikings started the season 1-1, but a 23-20 win in Week 2 to the Indianapolis Colts left veteran CB Antoine Winfield concerned about the future of that team. Shortly after the shooting death of his brother, Winfield stood up in front of the team to deliver a speech that he said focused on football, not his brother's death.

The Vikings released Winfield just before the start of free agency in March and were hoping to re-sign him to a lesser contract. That move didn't work, and Winfield took even less money to sign with the Seahawks. They ended up cutting him and he remains a free agent.

Winfield was the team's best cornerback last year, but he was also a veteran leader that wanted to instill the importance of winning. So far this year, the Vikings have been left with a heaping helping of frustration or, as DE Brian Robison put it, "frustanger" – a combination of frustration and anger – after a 0-3 start.

Smith said the mood of players after their latest last-minute loss – this one to the previously winless Cleveland Browns – should be a combination of anger and other emotions.

"If you're a competitor, you want to be here, you want to come to work, you want to get better, you want to win games," Smith said. "That's how we play. The famous, ‘You play to win the game.' So, when you don't win, it shouldn't feel very good. That's where I'm at and I think that's where a lot of guys are at right now. But at the same time, we're encouraged by some of the stuff that is going on. It's not like we're down on ourselves. We're kind of fired up."

The defense yielded 409 yards to a Browns offense that was starting a third-string quarterback who was making only his second NFL start and a running back that previously didn't have an NFL carry. Still, Smith said he doesn't think any Vikings are hitting the panic button and they have found things to build upon.

"From the defensive point of view, I think we turned the ball over four times in each of the last two games. I mean, that's big-time," Smith said. "But then also giving up touchdowns, long balls, stuff like that, are the things you've got to knock out. It's not like it's all bad and we have to panic and change everything. We're not far off, but we definitely need to improve a lot."

Offensively, however, there are struggles, too.

While Christian Ponder threw for 228 yards, he also took six sacks. That lowered his net passing yards to 195. He also threw an interception, and he and Adrian Peterson also lost fumbles.

"That'll be one of the points that I'll mention to our team this afternoon when we meet," head coach Frazier said. "For us to come away with four takeaways back to back weeks and not win the game, that doesn't happen very often. But it's happening when you are giving the ball back and you are not playing as well on special teams, and that's part of why we're where we are.

"That's part of why our games are coming down to one series, and it's something that has to be corrected. Otherwise we'll be right back at this spot again. You can't turn the ball over at the rate that we're turning it over and expect to win, unless – I've said this before – you're so superior to your opponents, and we're not."

REALITY SETTING IN?

The Vikings were convinced they had a better roster this year than they did last year, when they went 10-6 and made the playoffs. So far, however, that hasn't translated to a single win in three tries.

"Coming out of camp, I felt really good about what we were doing, what we were bringing at practice, the type of game plans we were implementing, type of personnel we have and how we're bringing it together," LB Chad Greenway said. "That's all good and great, but if you don't go out there and perform on Sundays when it counts, obviously it doesn't matter much. We haven't been good enough for long enough periods of time in games. Just too many breakdowns, there's no way to excuse it away other than the fact is, reality is we're 0-3, again."

Two of those losses were on the road to the division rival Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Those two teams now sit with 2-1 and 3-0 records, respectively.

The hardest loss to stomach has to be Sunday's to Cleveland, when the Vikings allowed a fake punt to yield a first down that eventually led to a field goal, and then a fake field goal that scored a touchdown when tight end Jordan Cameron was left uncovered. The other irritating factor in the Browns' loss: It was the Vikings' first home game.

"I'm frustrated for our fans. We love home games as players, obviously," Greenway said. "We've traditionally and historically played very well in the Metrodome in front of our home fans."

The Vikings agreed earlier in the year to give up one of their games at the Metrodome to play over in London as the "home team." That comes this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are also 0-3.

"We don't love the fact we're missing a home game here in Minneapolis, but this is the schedule we've been given," Greenway said. "Just have to go and do the best we can."

NOTES

  • Making his NFL debut, rookie LB Michael Mauti played 17 snaps on special teams, 47 percent of special-teams snaps. Mauti was a seventh-round pick from Penn State. His college teammate, Gerald Hodges, who was picked in the fourth round, hasn't been active for a game yet.

  • Weakside linebackers Desmond Bishop and Marvin Mitchell were in a virtual time-share Sunday: Bishop got 12 of 74 defensive snaps and Mitchell had 13.

  • CB Chris Cook played only three snaps before his groin injury. His replacement, CB A.J. Jefferson, had seven snaps before an ankle injury chased him off the field. And CB Marcus Sherels wound up with the majority of the replacement snaps – 64 of them.

  • S Jamarca Sanford played 50 snaps before a second-half hamstring injury forced him off the field. His replacement, Andrew Sendejo, played 23.

  • As for the wide receivers: Greg Jennings played 65 of 79 snaps, Jerome Simpson had 47, Jarius Wright 41, Cordarrelle Patterson 19 and Joe Webb six.

  • According to the Sports Business Journal, the Vikings are using the same three banks – Goldman, US Bank and BankAmerica – to help finance their stadium commitment as the 49ers used in their stadium financing. According to SBJ, the Vikings will borrow $250 million from the banks and use a $200 million loan from the NFL to make up the vast majority of their $477 million commitment to the new stadium.

  • The Vikings made room for the return of Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, coming off a three-game suspension, by placing rookie FB Zach Line on injured reserve.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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