Vikings coach Brad Childress was pressed with several questions about his starting quarterback on Monday. How is the fractured finger? Would Tarvaris Jackson be the starter if healthy? Would he still be the starter if a better option was available?
That was the media asking those questions, but some of the players have probably asked those same questions among themselves – especially the veteran players who signed with the Minnesota Vikings as free agents looking for an opportunity to become a playoff contender. Instead, the team is 2-4 and the offense continues to struggle.
"That was kind of my thing in the offseason, going into my ninth year. I definitely wanted to be in playoff contention and get to a Super Bowl," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "We're 2-4 right now, we still have 10 games left and we'll see what happens."
Winfield was the only Viking to regularly skip voluntary organized team activities during the offseason and has had at least a couple of conversations with Childress regarding the state of the team and his feelings on adding more talent around the existing offensive core.
The Vikings ended up signing no high-profile talent on offense during free agency, settling for a contract that surprised many with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, a part-time starter in previous seasons with the New York Giants. Shiancoe signed a five-year, $18.5 million contract with the expectation of becoming more involved in the passing game than he was in New York, where he caught 35 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns in four years. So far, he has nine receptions for 107 yards.
The Vikings in March also signed four-year veteran wide receiver Bobby Wade after contract offers to wide receiver Kevin Curtis were dismissed for what Childress said was not as financially lucrative of a deal from the Philadelphia Eagles.
By all accounts, Wade has become a veteran leader among the wide receivers, but his production has been as limited as the overall passing game. While he signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Vikings, Wade has caught 19 passes for 219 and leads the Vikings in both receptions in receiving yards. Still, like most veterans, his opportunities aren't quite as plentiful as he envisioned.
"That's no one's intentions when they sign, but I understand what this conference is about and I understand what the Minnesota Vikings are about as far as running the football," Wade said. "Not only that, but with the pick with Adrian (Peterson) and Chester (Taylor) being here. I understand when I came in I would be able to help with the passing game, but we've got to figure out a way to get the ball down the field."
Much of problem has been a lack of connectivity between the quarterback and wide receivers. Jackson, who says that his completion percentage should be in the 60s, is completing only 45.9 percent of his passes while backup Kelly Holcomb has completed 52.2 percent of his this season.
Judging from last year's productivity in the passing game, maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise. The Vikings ranked 23rd in the NFL in yards gained and 26th in points scored. The troubles this year seem very familiar.
"Looking from the outside looking in, it does," Winfield said. "We just can't get on a win streak for some reason. I don't think we've been on a three-game win streak since the coaches came in here, so hopefully we can put something together and get some wins."
Winfield this week avoided questions about his offseason issues regarding personnel. Asked if his spring and summer absences centered concerns at quarterback, he said, "I'm not going to comment on that," and asked if he'd share his thoughts with Childress again, he said, "I'm going to leave that one alone, too."
He tried to remain upbeat in the face of a 2-4 record and stay positive when talking about Jackson.
"We knew coming into this year with a young quarterback, first year starting, that there would be some growing pains. I think he's handled it well. There's a lot of pressure on him. He's not really performing like he wants to, but we have to stick with it," Winfield said.
Said safety Darren Sharper: "We have the outmost confidence in Tarvaris and whoever lines up back at the quarterback position because we know that they can get the job done. You're going to have days, especially as a young quarterback, when things would not go as you would like. I know he would like to have some of the throws back, but one thing about Tarvaris is that he's a competitor. He makes plays when he gets the opportunity to make plays. I think he played well enough that we had an opportunity to win. There were a lot of other phases that broke down that kind of cost us that (Cowboys) game."
Actually, Wade said he saw hope in Jackson during the offseason and that was a contributing factor in him signing with the Vikings.
"That was a deciding factor, coming to a place that has a promising quarterback situation and knowing that this is a place we can grow. ... It's still early," Wade said. "We've got 10 games to go and I'm extremely optimistic what we can do passing the ball."
Despite their losing record, the Vikings still have outscored their opponents 115-14 this season, but Sharper is tiring of being competitive and coming out on the losing end more often than not.
"That's kind of a story that we've heard over and over," the 11th-year NFL veteran said. "We're close, but we're not there. It's kind of one of those, ‘Oh, almost' type of situations. We need to find a way to make it stop being ‘Oh, almost' and start being ‘OK, we won. We got it done.'"
Winfield, who mentioned getting a winning streak going several times, said he believes that is possible with this team.
"I think so. All of our losses have been close," he said. "It seems to come down to late in the third quarter or in the fourth quarter when we don't make that play."
Tough for Veterans to Wait for Wins
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