FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's official. There is no debate. The Minnesota Vikings, who produced some pretty fine Masterpiece Theatre last week, have taken it up a notch. (Or down, depending on your perspective.)
It's still Theatre ... but of the Absurd.
Quarterback Brett Favre playing perhaps his best game of the season despite two fractures in his left foot, only to be felled by a brutal fourth-quarter hit under the chin that left him woozy and needing a cart to get off the field.
Coach Brad Childress describing Favre's face as "a pretty good shade of white" after the play, and Favre appearing nearly unconscious as he lay on the cart. But after taking eight stitches to close the wound and a dose of numbing agent -- while apparently also making a quick trip to the Fountain of Youth -- Favre dragged himself in front of reporters and made clear he would play next Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. In his affected state, perhaps Favre thought the Metrodome was hosting open casting calls for the Bionic Man. In all seriousness, it was stunning to see him standing upright and answering questions after the hit he took from defensive lineman Myron Pryor.
Finally, you had receiver Randy Moss offering a nearly five-minute statement in which he took oblique shots at Childress and the entire team while suggesting he wished he had not sulked his way out of New England earlier this month.
The only thing missing was a car full of clowns speeding through the locker room. Or maybe I just missed that one.
Favre said afterward that "hopefully our guys don't go south" after losing for the fifth time in seven games this season, leaving them tied with the Detroit Lions for the worst record in the NFC North. I really don't know if Moss became the first player to bag the season, or if his episode reflected a man so far off the deep end that his thoughts can't stand for those of the entire franchise.
Hopefully you read the entire transcript of Moss' statement, which he said would be his new way of interacting with the media following the NFL's decision to fine him $25,000 last week. (In true Theatre of the Absurd fashion, Moss said the only questions he would answer this season would be the ones he posed to himself.)
Of particular concern Sunday, however, were two of his sentiments: That Childress erred by not taking a short field goal just before the half, and that the Vikings didn't value his insight into the Patriots' schemes and tendencies.
With the score tied 7-7 late in the second quarter, Childress elected to run tailback Adrian Peterson on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots' 1-yard line. The play lost 2 yards, and ultimately the second half might have played out differently had the margin been three points closer. I think you could debate the decision reasonably on both sides, but it's not often that you hear a veteran player say what Moss uttered.
"I wish we could have had that three at the end of the half," he said. "Maybe it could have been different. Maybe not."
(Moss also referred to Patriots coach Bill Belichick as "the best coach in football history," leaving Childress no better than No. 2 on that list.)
For his part, Childress said he wanted to "just be aggressive" and added: "We were going to need seven points there, we thought, as opposed to those threes."
More notable, however, was Moss' "disappointment" that players and coaches didn't heed the information he provided during the week, a contribution Childress noted publicly several times.
"Tried to prepare, tried to talk to the players and coaches about how this game was going to be played," Moss said. "[A] couple tendencies here and a couple tendencies here. The bad part about it, is you have six days to prepare for a team, and on the seventh day, that Sunday, meaning today, I guess they come over and say, 'Dag Moss, I guess you was right about a couple plays and a couple schemes they were going to run.'
"And it hurts as a player, that you put a lot of hard work in during the week, and at the end of the week, Sunday, when you get on the field, that's when they acknowledge ... the hard work that you put in throughout the week. That's actually a disappointment."
The Vikings actually controlled the game for much of the first half, utilizing Peterson to consume the clock for nearly 20 of the first 30 minutes. They took a 10-7 lead with 9 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the third quarter but couldn't regain the lead after Tom Brady's acrobatic 65-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Tate.
But Moss' decision to lash out at least calls into question whether Childress still has the attention of a locker room filled with talented veterans who believe they know what it takes to win. Moss was targeted only twice and caught one pass for 8 yards in the game. Afterward, Childress referred to him as a "decoy" and Favre suggested there might be avenues to utilize Moss more frequently.
Favre noted that the Patriots, like the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys before them, had played a safety over top of him for most of the game. But, Favre added, there are ways to get around that.
"Now, maybe we can scheme up ways to move him around," Favre said, "or maybe even when it's two-deep coverage you buy enough time in protection by some type of play-action. I don't know."
In any event, this team sure looked on the brink of collapse as it departed Gillette Stadium. Favre admitted that, as he rode off the field a bloody mess, a dark thought briefly crossed his mind. "What in the world am I doing?" Favre said he was thinking at the moment.
But Favre insisted that "I'm in it to win it," and here is the reality: Even with two teams at 2-5, the NFC North remains a four-team race. But I was struck, and even felt a pang of sympathy, as Favre closed out his news conference.
"There have been plenty of times I should have been knocked out," Favre said. "But I wasn't. I think I'm all right."
A member of the Vikings' public relations staff called an end to the interview, but Favre wouldn't leave the podium. As the numbing agent caused him to slur a bit, Favre continued. Even now, he was still in character.
"I'll be ready to play next week," he said quietly, staring at the ground.
On this day, however, it hardly mattered. There are no roles for a Bionic Man in this show. We've moved from standard drama to The Endgame.