In Sunday's 24-14 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta, the Vikings gave a strong effort — buoyed by the outstanding individual effort of Percy Harvin, doing all he could do — but fell short in running their record to 2-9.
The biggest reason? Coaching.
The Vikings have been undone in myriad ways this season, as their early-schedule, late-game meltdowns showed, but Sunday's loss was all on the coaches, namely head coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac.
The PFW Spin
Frazier admitted after the game he was in the wrong for his mishandling of a crucial goal-line series that cost his team a chance to win and pull a giant upset. The Vikings trailed by 10 points and called for a run on 3rd-and-goal to Harvin, a play on which he appeared to cross the goal line. If nothing else, it was probably worth a coach's challenge. But Frazier let the play go, explaining that he did not receive word from the coaches' box one way or another on whether to challenge it. And instead of kicking a field goal to cut it to a one-possession game, the Vikings tried to gut the Falcons.
Without their best runner, Adrian Peterson, the Vikings called for a 4th-and-goal, straight-ahead run to Toby Gerhart (who earlier in the season was stopped on a 4th-and-1 on a similar-looking play) and were stopped. The Falcons closed out the game from there.
Frazier got greedy. He saw Christian Ponder convert an unlikely 4th-and-13 pass to Harvin for a gorgeous TD pass earlier in the game and remembered an earlier 4th-and-short conversion when the coach decided to roll the dice and go for it. Not challenging the Harvin run might have been his biggest mistake, though, because it's hard to fault a 2-8 team too much for wanting to roll the dice.
The coordinators' faults on Sunday were less obvious but nonetheless tangible.
Musgrave, who brought his system from Atlanta, did little to change his approach against his old team, and the Falcons appeared keyed in early. The Vikings' first quality drive didn't come until the third quarter; prior to that, they had three three-and-outs in the first six series and averaged 13.8 yards per drive.
Although Harvin was great, he touched the ball only 13 times on offense. He caught all eight passes that were thrown his way; he could have had more. Throwing to Harvin, Ponder completed 100 percent of his passes and gained nearly 12 yards per pass play. Throwing to the other Vikings receivers, Ponder completed only 9-of-17 passes and netted only 5.4 yards per pass attempt.
Pagac and Frazier clearly are not on the same page now, and ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero's report that Frazier usurped some of the coordinator's play-calling duties last week and this week seems to back that up. They are caught between lacking talent, wanting to be aggressive and playing smart, and have been unable to do any of the three effectively for four quarters. Pagac's blitzes were ineffective, and his stop unit was on the field for far too long (almost 20 minutes in the first half).
You have to wonder about Pagac and whether he and Frazier will remain together. The Wilf family is not about to fire Frazier and pay three head coaches next season: Brad Childress (who is still owed money for another year-plus), Frazier and whomever they would hire to be the next coach.