Frazier faces challenge with 0-3 team
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- Leslie Frazier's six-week stint as interim head coach last season for Minnesota was full of complications, from a slew of injuries to the Brett Favre sideshow to the snowstorms that postponed or relocated three straight games.
Frazier's latest tall task is to revive the Vikings from the 0-3 start and keep them from spiraling into a state of discouragement following three straight squandered second-half leads.
"It takes a little while, especially the way some of our games have gone of late," Frazier said Monday, when asked about how he's recovered from another "heart-wrenching loss," as he put it. "You run some things back and forth in your mind, try to work through 'em and see how they might help you in the future."
Given the almost-unfathomable fashion in which the Vikings have lost -- they've been outscored 67-6 after halftime after building a cumulative 54-7 advantage over the first two quarters -- there are several areas under scrutiny this week by fans and analysts. Like every other NFL coach, Frazier's management of the game is on full display for everyone to dissect, and a late decision he made on each of the last two Sunday afternoons became a key part of the outcome.
With the Vikings clinging to a three-point lead on Sept. 18 and Tampa Bay driving for the go-ahead touchdown, Frazier opted to keep all three of the team's timeouts to use on offense, explaining afterward he firmly believed the defense would keep the Buccaneers out of the end zone. But they took the clock down more than 3½ minutes to 35 seconds left, and the Vikings weren't able to catch up.
Then against Detroit, with the Vikings facing fourth-and-1 at the 17-yard line, Frazier kept the field-goal unit on the sideline. Toby Gerhart took a quick inside handoff, rather than star Adrian Peterson, and was stopped for no gain. The Lions went the other way and tied the game before winning by three points in overtime.
Defensive end Jared Allen said he likes "that kind of football," an aggressive move to try to take a 10-point lead.
"That's just the ebbs and flows of the game," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "We make it, everybody's happy. We didn't make it, so it's questionable now."
With a full day to reflect on the play, Frazier smiled when asked if he would've done it differently.
"I wouldn't mind if I could have gone out there and made that block for our guys and just got that first down," Frazier said. "I thought we could get it. It didn't work out."
Though offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave calls the plays, Peterson's use was another topic of external examination of Frazier, who vowed to focus this week on ensuring that Peterson remains an integral part of the offense in the second half. He had only five yards on five carries after halftime against Detroit, excluding a 14-yard gain negated by penalty.
"I have to remind myself of this: Even if Adrian gets stopped for negative gain or two yards because they've got so many people at the line of scrimmage, he's such a great player that even against eight-man fronts he can still make something happen," Frazier said. "You can't ever forget that."
One of the reasons why Peterson didn't touch the ball more was that the Vikings went three-and-out four times in the second half. Quarterback Donovan McNabb's misfires on some critical passes have been part of the problem. McNabb's wrist bothered him during the game, but Frazier insisted he was "still pretty good" after he hurt it. But the coach said the Vikings would look at his drops in the pocket and footwork this week to determine whether he can fix some of the short hops he's thrown.
"That's not the only reason we're falling short. That's one of the reasons. There are some other things we have to work on as a team," Frazier said.
Like getting open down field and giving McNabb time to throw when he does want to go deep. Wide receiver Bernard Berrian, whose role is exactly that, has just one catch in three games.
McNabb has only one turnover -- Favre had seven by this point last season -- but if his accuracy continues to be a problem, Frazier will find another important decision in the spotlight. With first-round draft pick Christian Ponder learning behind the 34-year-old McNabb, the Vikings could be wise to turn to the rookie if they fall out of the playoff race early.
For now, Frazier's main priority is to keep the spirits up.
"This team, we're strong. Everybody is for each other," wide receiver Percy Harvin said.
NOTES: Harvin declined to be specific about the illness that kept him out of one practice last week and a chunk of the fourth quarter on Sunday. "I'm fine now. No symptoms. Everything's good. It was really nothing," he said. ... Frazier said Williams was "a little sore" on Monday morning after his first game following a two-game suspension but said he thought the nine-year veteran was "a factor" in the defense that held the Lions to 20 yards rushing on 19 attempts and that the attention he drew inside helped Allen and DE Brian Robison see more one-on-one matchups outside on the pass rush.