How Vikings became NFL’s most dysfunctional family

After ripping coach Brad Childress behind his back all week, the
Minnesota Vikings finally backed up their words with deeds.

They didn’t exactly quit Sunday against the Chicago Bears, but
their effort was far from a ringing endorsement of their embattled
boss. They got beat physically all over the field, folded up in the
second half and lost every phase of the game by the time it was
over. Brett Favre, returning to Soldier Field on the heels of yet
another signature comeback against Arizona only last week, fumbled
once and was intercepted three times. And he was far from
Minnesota’s only problem.

Two of those interceptions came when Favre’s receivers slipped
and a third followed a tipped pass. But he wasn’t about to kid
himself and write them all down to bad luck. The Vikings still have
all the pieces that made them a preseason Super Bowl pick, but
there’s no denying the sum of those parts is – at the moment,
anyway – the NFL’s most dysfunctional family.

His eyes watery and his voice low, Favre wondered aloud whether
a return for one more season was the right call.

”Had I known it would be like this,” he said after a 27-13
loss dropped the Vikings to 3-6 and all but knocked them out of
playoff contention, ”sure, it would have been easier to make a
decision.”

Favre is not the only member of the organization suffering some
form of buyer’s remorse. Several others, including some players,
leaked word to the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week that
Childress could count on little support and even less loyalty from
the locker room going forward.

”We know Childress doesn’t have our backs, so why should we
have his?” one player said. ”We’re playing for us and we’re
winning despite him.”

Now they’re not even doing that.

Childress said afterward he had no problem with either the
team’s or Favre’s effort. But he wasn’t handing out any praise,
either.

”I know our receivers probably could have stood up, there were
a couple slips there. But I thought he had a pretty good rhythm
early on in the passing game,” Childress said, ”and how he lost
that hand, I’m not sure.”

The last part could be interpreted as a subtle dig at his
quarterback, but who knows with these Vikings?

Everyone from owner Zygi Wilf on down has weighed in – on and
off the record – on just about every decision that’s been made.
It’s forced people to choose sides in a tiring string of debates,
from whether bringing back here-today, gone-tomorrow receiver Randy
Moss was a good idea, to Childress’ mix of run and pass plays on
offense from week to week.

Favre, who’s pushed the passing option most of the season, may
have taken a subtle dig at his coach this time around by suggesting
the Vikings didn’t run enough.

It came as Favre tried to explain how the Bears’ defense zeroed
in on him during a tough second half. Favre completed nine of 12
passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in the opening half, posting a
quarterback rating of 128.8; in the second, he was 9 of 19 for 56
yards and threw three interceptions. His quarterback rating tumbled
to 44.4.

Asked what adjustment the defense made, Favre said simply, ”The
Chicago Bears, they don’t adjust.”

A moment later, he added, ”They came in with the mindset they
were going to play cover-two, which is daring you to run the ball.
There were tight windows to throw in. I was trying to take what
they were giving us, but we know what happened.”

What happens next is anyone’s guess, though it’s hard to imagine
either Favre or Childress winning the battle of wills
decisively.

The quarterback is making $1 million per game. The coach signed
a five-year contract extension after the team reached the NFC
championship game last season. He did not sound concerned that the
volume will likely be cranked up on calls for his firing. Childress
planned to be coaching next week, he said evenly, ”until I get any
word differently.”

But there’s little doubt who won the popularity contest. Other
than talking into his headset, Childress had so little contact with
his players or other assistants on the sideline Sunday that he
could have been mistaken for one of the guys carrying the
down-and-distance markers.

He exchanged words with Favre briefly on the sideline with 8:37
left in the game. But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who’s
functioned as a go-between for coach and quarterback all season,
quickly showed up and the conversation between Childress and Favre
ended. Two plays later, running back Adrian Peterson fell at the
end of a pass route over the middle and Chicago linebacker Lance
Briggs intercepted the pass.

”The way we’re playing, it will take but a couple more losses
and we will be out of it,” Favre said. ”That’s just being honest.
I don’t know how to sugarcoat it.”

About the only topic everyone on the Vikings agrees on is the
time has come to shut up and play.

”The more you talk about it,” said defensive end Jared Allen,
”the more it remains an issue.”

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org