MINNEAPOLIS -- The path from the Metrodome field to the home locker room is uphill and through a drab, narrow corridor. The 0-3 Minnesota Vikings made the walk Sunday afternoon in silence. Leslie Frazier, near the front, walked with his head down. Donovan McNabb, toward the back, stared blankly straight ahead. After the latest blown lead and Vikings defeat -- this one a 26-23 crusher to the Detroit Lions -- there was little to say.
It was odd seeing the prideful McNabb in his purple uniform, his third NFL team in three seasons, but this is the path his career has taken -- just another uphill climb.
"I'm not going to show my anger right now," McNabb said Sunday. "I'm upset. Everyone is upset."
It was a quote you could have pulled straight from his days in Philadelphia.
Two years after coming to within a whisker of the Super Bowl, the Vikings can point to many culprits for their dreadful start -- the defense for blowing leads, the offense for settling for field goals, the coaching staff for too often ignoring Adrian Peterson.
Frazier admitted as much after Sunday's game.
Peterson was brilliant in the first half, rushing for 73 yards on 12 carries as Minnesota raced out to a 20-0 halftime lead. Peterson seemed primed to carry the load in the second half. Instead, he had just five more carries for five yards as Detroit ran off 23 straight points.
"What we have to make sure we are always conscious of, and I have to remind myself of this, even if Adrian gets stopped for a negative gain, or two yards because they have so many people at the line of scrimmage, he can still make something happen and you can never forget that," Frazier said Monday. "In the second half [Detroit] came with more eight-man fronts because of Adrian, and we just have to stay with it because it will open other things."
The Vikings must also determine how long they will stick with McNabb, who has suddenly become a quarterback doing just enough to lose. Even if there is plenty of blame to go around, the stats for McNabb have not been kind. In three starts, he has a 78.1 quarterback rating. In his last 18 starts, a stretch that covers stints with the Vikings, Redskins and Eagles (including one playoff game), McNabb's teams have won only five games. He is riding a six-game losing streak as a starter and has dropped eight of nine games overall.
Those are the kinds of numbers that get quarterbacks benched, especially with younger arms on the roster.
"I don't think our quarterback position is our problem right now," Frazier said Sunday. "We're not thinking about anything with the quarterback position."
Said McNabb: "I feel like I left some plays out there [against Detroit], and that's just being a quarterback. You recognize the opportunities that you had that you didn't take advantage of, things that can get cleaned up. I look forward to getting those cleaned up and we'll see what happens after that."
The question is, how much time will the Vikings give McNabb to clean those things up? How many more losses can the Vikings have before turning to Christian Ponder, who was drafted with a valuable first-round pick (No. 12) in April?
During his heyday with the Eagles, McNabb never received complete respect from his fanbase, even as the centerpiece of teams that went to a Super Bowl and four straight NFC Championship Games. As recently as June 2009, Andy Reid said, "I think we have the best quarterback in the National Football League. I've said that many times."
Ten months later, the Eagles traded McNabb to their division rival Washington Redskins for two draft picks, a shocking intra-division move that said two things loudly and clearly: We think we have better quarterbacks than you, and we don't think you can hurt us. Think Bill Belichick shipping Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo.
McNabb is only 34, same as Tom Brady, younger than Peyton Manning.He has said he envisions a long career, something on the order of a Brett Favre or Vinny Testaverde.
One of the best quarterbacks of his generation is at another crossroads, as is the Vikings team he plays for. No one knows how this story will end and how many more walks McNabb will make through the Metrodome tunnel, uphill all the way.