EDEN PRAIRIE -- Less than two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings were a win away from the Super Bowl.
Now, they're struggling to get wins, period.
Since that embarrassing 41-0 defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game on Jan. 14, 2001, the Vikings' descent has been rapid and rocky.
Their 5-11 finish last year that finished Dennis Green's 10-year run as head coach now looks like a lofty goal.
Off to a 1-5 start under Mike Tice, nothing has gone right for this once-mighty franchise over the past 21 months.
For now, the new coach still has his sense of humor.
"We're not underachieving by any means," Tice told the media. "We're right at where you guys picked us."
Surely the Vikings can't help but wonder how much else can go wrong before they start having some success.
"Once in awhile it comes to mind," offensive tackle Chris Liwienski said, "but you just try to focus on each week. You can't sit and dwell on all the stuff that's happened here in the last two years. It doesn't do you any good."
That, and it would take too long.
With a quarterback, Daunte Culpepper, who had never started before, nobody expected the Vikings to make the NFL's final four in 2000. But they started 7-0 and, despite a shaky pass defense, won the NFC Central and wound up in the conference championship game against the Giants.
But that's when the downfall began. Before they knew it, they trailed by two touchdowns on the way to the 41-0 rout.
Afterward, star receiver Randy Moss wondered aloud whether the Vikings could ever win a Super Bowl. His clairvoyance is eerily accurate.
Typically of the misfortune this season,
Doug Brien missed a pair of extra points in a 45-39 overtime loss to Buffalo in Week 2, and the Vikings brought Gary Anderson out of retirement to replace him on field goals and extra points.
Then Moss, who's producing below his talent level and contract for the second straight season, spent a night in jail following a run-in with a traffic control agent in downtown Minneapolis.
This week, running back Doug Chapman was hospitalized with internal bleeding and he's out for the year with an abdominal injury.
A comeback win over Detroit Oct. 14 gave hope, but the Vikings took several steps back last Sunday in a 20-7 loss to the New York Jets.
They continued to give away the ball on offense -- their 20 turnovers are most in the league -- and their young defense is still prone to giving up big plays.
The competition doesn't get easier, either. After entertaining the Bears this weekend, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Green Bay (twice), New England and Miami are on the schedule.
"Being that we are competitive guys, losing definitely takes a piece of your soul from you," said defensive end Lance Johnstone. "You've got 10 games left. You can go ahead and work at your craft and try to continue to get better, regardless of the situation. Or you can kind of make the season hell for you and kind of accept it.
"Ten weeks is a long time to go ahead and accept getting your butt whipped every week, so I don't think we're going to do that."
Though he's as frustrated as his players, Tice seems to have kept dissension from creeping in.
"The team's together," Liwienski said. "We know we're doing a lot of things right. It we get some of these things turned around, these stupid mistakes and what not, we're going to have some success."
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