Vikings ponder what went wrong this season
In January, Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings were NFL darlings, a feel-good story of a team and a quarterback that finished one play away from the Super Bowl.
Just over 10 months later, Favre and the Vikings are a punchline, a 3-7 self-described ''embarrassment,'' that got its coach fired during the season.
After being soundly beaten by division rivals Chicago and Green Bay in successive weeks led to the firing of coach Brad Childress, the Vikings have spent the past few days contemplating just what went wrong to cause such a spectacular collapse.
In a word - everything.
''We're 3-7,'' tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said in an impassioned postgame blasting of the team on Sunday. ''You go 3-7 you always want to blame somebody else. Sometimes you can't blame somebody else. Sometimes you have to focus on yourself and what you're doing wrong. And that's everybody. Not just one individual. Not just a couple of guys. It's everybody.''
From Favre being in the middle of an NFL investigation and turning the ball over at an incredible rate to injuries to ill-fated roster moves, nothing has gone the way the Vikings planned when they brought back all 22 starters from last season's charmed division champion.
Even after Favre spent another summer waffling about his plans to play and finally decided to rejoin the Vikings in mid-August, the expectations were still sky high. He went through the same song and dance last year after all, and put up what he calls the best season of his career - a 33-touchdown, seven-interception masterpiece at age 40 that guided the Vikings all the way to the NFC title game.
The second time around has proven to be far more difficult. Favre leads the NFL with 17 interceptions and his 69.8 quarterback rating ranks 32nd in the league, ahead of only Carolina's Matt Moore.
Off the field, it's been just as rocky for the 41-year-old. The NFL is investigating allegations that Favre sent inappropriate messages to a game-day hostess when they both worked for the Jets in 2008, a salacious, tabloid-style storyline that teammates and coaches have had to address throughout the season.
Favre isn't the only player in purple who isn't earning his paycheck. The defensive line of Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards, which led the league in sacks last season, is not putting enough pressure on the quarterback.
Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice waited until August to have surgery on his injured hip and just played in his first game last week. And other high-priced players such as receiver Bernard Berrian, safety Madieu Williams and most of the offensive line have underperformed as well.
''I don't think there's anybody on our team that can stand back and say, 'You know what? I've done my part. I'm not the reason we're 3-7,''' interim head coach Leslie Frazier said. ''And if we have a guy like that, that guy has been a selfish individual.''
Things really started to turn sour after the Vikings traded a third-round pick to New England to bring receiver Randy Moss back to Minnesota last month. Childress abruptly decided to cut him after just four games, with Moss' lack of production on the field and antics in the locker room forcing the coach's hand. But his unilateral decision upset ownership, putting Childress on the hot seat as the losses continued to pile up.
Childress also butted heads with Favre and several other players, including nearly coming to blows with receiver Percy Harvin in practice a few weeks ago, and it all came to a head on Sunday in the 31-3 home loss to the Packers.
Players argued with each other. Favre snapped at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Shiancoe and Adrian Peterson both said they believed some Vikings quit during the game.
That was enough for Zygi Wilf, who fired Childress and replaced him with Frazier for the remainder of the season.
Receiver Greg Camarillo was asked on Tuesday what the past 48 hours have been like.
''I've been here for three months, so it's more like what have these three months been like,'' Camarillo said. ''It's just a whirlwind. We've had highs. We've had lows. We've had crazy news. We've had regular news. Even when there's no news there always seems to be something to make the news.''
With high-profile stars such as Favre, Peterson, Allen and Harvin, satellite trucks and national reporters have become a fixture at the team's headquarters, a constant presence that is wearing on a veteran unit not used to being in such a harsh spotlight.
''Anytime you have a team that had so much success as this team had last year and you have the big names that this team has, there's going to be media attention,'' Camarillo said. ''It's too bad that media attention hasn't been us being undefeated. Obviously we're in a bad situation.''
With only six games remaining in what so far has been a monumentally disappointing season, it remains to be seen if there is enough time left for the coaching change to make a significant impact.
''I think when you look at our situation, we're kind of stagnant right now and things aren't working out,'' linebacker Ben Leber said on Tuesday. ''I think any change right now, you have to look at as a positive. So, we're going to try to take this situation how some guys view it and other guys view it, everybody's got to be on the same page, and I think we are, and we're going to turn this into a positive situation. We have to.''