CINCINNATI -- The Minnesota Vikings had just finished their 10th and most lopsided loss of the season, falling by four touchdowns to the Cincinnati Bengals at a time when such a shot could prove fatal to the chances of coach Leslie Frazier keeping his job. Running back Adrian Peterson -- who had said on Friday he looked forward to playing for Frazier "for the rest of my career," was even more pointed in his support of Frazier on Sunday.
After the season, Peterson said, he planned to communicate that support directly to ownership.
"I'm definitely not an individual that's looking for dramatic change. It would hurt if he leaves," Peterson said. "I try to say what I think, but there's a time and place for everything. With the season getting wrapped up, that time is coming. I'm going to give my input, see what they have to say and we'll go from there."
By that time, it might be too late for Peterson or anyone else looking to stump for Frazier. The Vikings need wins more than words to make that case, and instead of following up a blowout of the Philadelphia Eagles with another win over a playoff contender on Sunday, they got steamrolled, 42-14, by the Bengals in a game that guaranteed Frazier will have more seasons with double-digit losses (two) than double-digit wins (one) to his name as the Vikings' coach.
The loss, as much as anything, highlighted the glaring deficiencies on the Vikings' roster. Frazier can do little about his quarterback situation, where the inconsistent Matt Cassel has looked like the best of a weak bunch, and on Sunday, the coach's list of healthy cornerbacks included a converted safety (Robert Blanton), an undrafted free agent (Marcus Sherels), two practice-squad additions (Shaun Prater and Robert Steeples) and former second-round pick Chris Cook, who's been so unreliable that the Vikings were rotating him with Prater and Sherels on Sunday. That situation hangs more on general manager Rick Spielman than it does Frazier, but in light of how much the Vikings have apparently been doing their homework on coaching candidates, Frazier's fate might be sealed.
Citing multiple sources, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Vikings ownership has told others around the league that it is planning to make a head coaching change after this season, though one team source was adamant that nothing has been decided yet. Vikings ownership has told others that it believes it presides over an attractive opportunity, one that will have another premium draft pick, along with the promise of a new stadium coming. The Vikings already have been doing their due diligence on potential replacements for Frazier, and their wish list is said to include Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, among others.
I'd heard rumblings of candidates putting out feelers for the Vikings job as early as November, when the team was 1-7, and in reality, Frazier was in a tough spot last January, when ownership decided not to offer him a contract extension after a 10-6 season, choosing instead to pick up his 2014 option and effectively forcing him to repeat a season where the Vikings enjoyed a soft schedule, good fortune with injuries and the singular brilliance of Peterson during his 2,097-yard march on Eric Dickerson's record.
The odds of doing that were slim when the Vikings had so much uncertainty at possibly the two most important positions in the NFL -- quarterback and cornerback -- and while Peterson insisted after the loss that the Bengals weren't better than the Vikings, Frazier almost sounded at a loss for what he could do with his young secondary racked by injuries and not only Peterson, but backup Toby Gerhart trying to play through injuries.
"It's been tough, now. I'm not going to sit here and sugarcoat that," Frazier said. "Where we are in the secondary, and where we were today, having to get [running back] Joe Banyard up with Toby going down [after re-injuring his hamstring on the Vikings' first series], we tried our best to maximize the roster. ... The good thing about Joe Banyard, about Shaun, all those guys is, they're playing as hard as they can and giving you everything they have. But some of those matchups can be difficult, for sure."
Frazier said this week he was just making a "general comment" in a Sirius XM Radio interview when he praised the Rooney family for their patience with the Pittsburgh Steelers' coaches, but it's hard to believe he wasn't uttering the remarks without an eye toward his own situation. His status looked as bleak as ever on Sunday, when his players could only offer statements of support while the results pushed Frazier to the brink.
"We'll have some internal discussions, but I've got one more game in this season," Frazier said. "I'm looking forward to hopefully coaching that final game and getting us a win at Mall of America Field as we close out the [Metrodome]. That's where my focus will be."