MIKE O'HARA

OPPONENT BREAKDOWN: 2013 hasn't been the season the Vikings expected

Posted Dec 24, 2013

The Vikings have never been in playoff contention this season, something head coach Leslie Frazier and his players didn't anticipate

Leslie FrazierGM Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier at the new stadium groundbreaking. (Photo: AP Images)

From the first offensive play of their first game of the season, the Minnesota Vikings literally were off and running like no team in the National Football League.

They got the ball for their first play of the year at their 22-yard line on a punt from the Lions at Ford Field. Adrian Peterson broke through a hole to run uncontested for a 78-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. No team could ask for a better start.

One play, and a touchdown.

As they sit in last place in the NFC North with a 4-10-1 record going into Sunday's final game against the Lions, that play remains one of the few shining moments of the season. The Vikings lost the opener to the Lions, 34-24, and Peterson gained only 15 more yards on his next 17 carries to finish with 93 for the game.

Not much has gone right for a Vikings team that failed to meet any of its goals in a season that has turned 180 degrees from last year. They beat the Packers in the last regular season game at home last year to earn a wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs.

Peterson is still the NFL's best running back, when healthy, but his production has fallen off. Coach Leslie Frazier has had a rotating cast of quarterbacks, and nobody has taken command of the position.

The only highlight for the Vikings in the final game is the celebration of Sunday's game being the last played at Mall of America Stadium. For the next two seasons, the Vikings will play their home games in the University of Minnesota's stadium while a new one is under construction and to be open for the 2016 season.

As this week's Opponent Breakdown shows, the Vikings never got on track, starting with opening day. Frazier talked about a number of issues that made an impact on the Vikings' season -- including his job status -- in his conference call interview Tuesday:

Quarterback carousel: Either because of performance or injuries, or both, the Vikings never had a consistent starter at quarterback. Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel all have had a shot at the job, and none of the three looks like the quarterback of the future.

"It's not what you want," Frazier said of the many changes. "It's not ideal."

The problems actually started in last year's playoff game. Ponder was hurt in the playoff-clincher against the Packers, leaving Joe Webb to start the wild card game, also against the Packers and a 24-10 loss.

Ponder has started nine games and has nine interceptions against seven TD passes. Cassel has started five games, including the last three, and will start against the Lions. Cassel has been somewhat better than Ponder, with 10 TD passes against eight interceptions.

Freeman, a former starter for Tampa Bay, was signed after being cut by the Bucs. He performed so poorly in his one start that he has been inactive for seven of the last nine games.

Changing scenarios: The Vikings never were in playoff contention. They started the season with three straight losses and were 1-7 at the halfway point.

They finished last season on a high note. They beat the Packers in the final game at home to make the NFC playoffs as a wild card with a 10-6 record. Peterson led the Vikings with 2,097 yards, the second-highest rushing total in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105.

"A completely different set of circumstances," Frazier said. "We were preparing for a ballgame last year that would have put us in the playoffs with a win, versus preparing for a ballgame that closes out the historic Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and also ends our season."

As a former defensive back with the Chicago Bears, Frazier knows that having nothing to play for is difficult for veterans.

"It's really tough for the veteran guys who've been in the league for a while and may realize this may be their last shot," Frazier said. "And to not be playing for a playoff berth, or preparing for a playoff berth, it's tough.

"But we are working with professionals. They understand the situation. They have a lot of pride about what they do. These guys have come to work and worked hard these last few weeks to try to get wins. They're pros at the end of the day."

Adrian PetersonRB Adrian Peterson has struggled through injuries for the majority of the season. (Photo: AP Images)

Peterson's plunge: When healthy, he's still the best back in the NFL. Although he missed only one start, he's been at less than full strength often.

Peterson ranks third in the league in rushing with 1,266 yards and has 10 rushing touchdowns. He can break a game open at any time, as he did in back-to-back overtime games against the Packers and Bears. He rushed for 146 yards in a tie at Green Bay and 211 in a win at home over the Bears.

Cassel finished out the Bears game after Ponder went out with an injury.

When Peterson broke the 78-yard TD run against the Lions, Frazier thought he might make good on his offseason prediction that he would better last year's mark of 2,096.

"Oh, yeah," Frazier said. "I always think whenever he says something, after watching him come back from that ACL surgery (after the 2011 season), nothing is impossible with Adrian," Frazier said. "When he broke that run, I thought good things would happen for him and for our team.

"It's been a tough year."

Job security: It's the time of year that spawns speculation about the job security of coaches, and reports have circulated that Frazier could be out. Reports about Frazier began surfacing last week, and he did not address the situation with his players.

He brought it up at a team meeting on Tuesday, hoping to keep their focus on the game and not on his situation.

"I felt like I needed to address it with our players," he said. "I want them to just concentrate on their jobs and not be worried about the coach and what's going on with me.

"I felt like last week when I didn't address it, it was a distraction, and I didn't want it to be.”