The locker room was nearly empty during the media access portion Monday, with only a few players making brief appearances. Wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who normally is accommodating to the media, told a reporter that he should talk to someone who played. Darren Sharper, who heard Ferguson's response, did talk to reporters but joked that maybe they should talk to someone who made a play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. With less than a handful of players even coming through the locker room in the 45 minutes of allotted access and a shortage of inspiring plays on Sunday, that was a tall request.
But head coach Brad Childress said he doesn't feel any more pressure this year despite the addition of free-agent talent and more than $60 million in guarantees paid out to those acquisitions.
"I really don't, just aside from the pressure that I put on myself and we put on ourselves, I don't," Childress said Monday. "I know what direction it has to go to get better. I know the things we have to do to get better and I see eager guys looking back for direction and that's my job is to lead those guys and I don't see a lot of far-off eyes."
Childress identified turnovers, dropped passes and penalties as the main culprit in the Vikings' latest loss, a 30-17 defeat at the hands of the 4-0 Tennessee Titans, who scored 21 points off of three Vikings turnovers.
"I don't see any problem with the fight of our team. They all want to get it straight, I think they're competing their tails off," Childress said. "Unfortunately, when you put your defense on the field with a 30-yard field, an 11-yard field and a 6-yard field, very difficult to do much good. I was proud of the way they came back, fought back."
Despite the turnovers, seven penalties and an unspecified number of dropped passes, the Vikings still had a chance to win the game in the waning moments. Down 23-17 with 4:03 remaining in the game, quarterback Gus Frerotte still had an opportunity to bring the offense on at least a game-winning drive, but when he was hit on the third play of that series, the Titans came away with their first interception of the game and scored on the next play to give them a 30-17 win.
"It's frustrating because we're a better team than our record shows. But the record is the record," Sharper said. "If you win the games you're supposed to win, your record will be indicative of that. But you know we haven't won the games we're supposed to win, even with the offseason acquisitions. We're playing decent football, we're just killing ourselves at the wrong times in games. The game is a game of inches and we're not finding a way to get those certain inches to help us win."
The Vikings actually outgained the Titans 333 yards to 275, but the Titans had only four penalties and one turnover. The Vikings had that final interception and three fumbles that Tennessee recovered, including a botched snap between center Matt Birk and Frerotte.
"You've got to take care of the details in this business. People are too good. Everybody's got plays, but it's the little nuances that you have to take care of," Childress said. "You don't even think about a center-quarterback exchange until it doesn't occur. It's kind of like me talking about – you don't hear me mention somebody's name, that's a good thing because it means they are usually doing their job."
After garnering a 4-1 turnover advantage in the Vikings game, Tennessee now leads the league with a plus-6 takeaway/giveaway advantage. Childress said it's especially hard to overcome that on the road.
"I think teams were 9-27 on the road if you were a minus (in the turnover battle). You have to be good and then some," he said. "You have to defeat everything. The penalties, the turnovers and then you have to beat that good football team on the field."
Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson was in and out of the game with a foot injury that was diagnosed Monday as multiple dislocated toes on his left foot after a magnetic resonance test revealed the extent of the damage.
"We don't have any idea of his ongoing status until we're able to research that a little more with the doctors," Childress said.
According to the coach, Henderson was in a walking boot Monday, and Childress said it was an unusual injury.
"He kind of posted on it and bent on it and was kind of bracing on it. Whatever happened, happened in there. He didn't have anybody fall on him or anything like that. Kind of an unusual kind of injury," he said.
First-year player David Herron, who spent 11 weeks on the practice squad and the final four on the active roster last year, filled in for Henderson when he was sidelined.
"He did a good job, aside from the first play where they kind of misdirected on him a little bit. I think he was a little amped up, and they showed both backs one way and he got a little behind the run, but he did some good things in there," Childress said of Herron.
BIG MAC BACK
Bryant McKinnie was at Winter Park on Monday after spending the past four weeks suspended from the team for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Childress said he talked to McKinnie Monday morning, but he wanted to see what kind of condition he was in before determining if he'd start against New Orleans next Monday night.
"You want to look at his conditioning and his stamina and those kind of things," Childress said. "But he looks like he's done a lot of work since he's been down there (in Miami) in the heat.
"He looks to be in great shape and good spirits."
Sharper said he didn't talk to McKinnie but said he looked good.
Childress said the team would receive a one-week roster exemption while McKinnie returns to practice this week.
PUNTING AT LAST
In a strange play that might not have made a difference in the final outcome, Childress elected to punt the ball back to the Titans, who held a 30-17, lead right after the two-minute warning. The Vikings were facing fourth-and-13 and needed 13 points to tie the game. The chances of that happening were minimal, but punting it away they had no shot.
"Fourth and 13? Based on the way we were playing defense, I thought we'd have a chance to get it back," Childress said.
The Titans knelt on the ball three times to end the game.
"His wife wasn't worried about his hand, she was worried about his you-know-whats," Childress said. "He's got three children already and doesn't really need any more."