EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (Dec. 4, 2006) -- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress has a problem. Three, actually.
His starting quarterback is 38 years old, playing as if he's 48, and coming off a four-interception game against Chicago on Dec. 3.
His backup quarterback arrived at team headquarters on Dec. 4 with his left arm in a sling.
And his third option is a raw rookie who admits he's still learning and is not totally comfortable in the NFL just yet.
No wonder morale is low in Vikings Land.
It's been a long time since the Vikings have been in such dire straits with their quarterback, and Childress didn't have many answers following a 23-13 loss to the Bears.
"I have a few different options," he said. "I think that the biggest thing that you ask as we go is who is going to give us the best chance to win in the fourth quarter. We'll just look at that and see who we feel like that is."
The first nine questions of the news conference Dec. 4 centered on the quarterback, and Childress grew testy as they kept coming.
"It's not about the quarterback," Childress snapped.
In this case, it's hard to find fault elsewhere.
The Vikings (5-7) held the Bears to 107 total yards, forced five turnovers and rushed for a season-high 192 yards, yet still lost for the fifth time in six games.
Starter Brad Johnson had a quarterback rating of 10.3, which despite being nine points higher than counterpart Rex Grossman's 1.3, still was nowhere near good enough to win a game.
Johnson was yanked in the third quarter after throwing interceptions on two straight passes, one of which Ricky Manning Jr. took 54 yards for a touchdown.
Backup Brooks Bollinger led the team to its lone touchdown of the game, but sprained his left (non-throwing) shoulder when he was sacked by Adewale Ogunleye and is questionable for this week against Detroit.
Rookie Tarvaris Jackson, an untested second-round pick out of Division I-AA Alabama State, was 3-for-4 for 35 yards, but lost a fumble and was wide-eyed when talking about his first regular season action.
"It's totally different from looking in your book," Jackson said. "Yes, I know what to do, but it's totally different when you have a defense out there moving around and doing stuff, especially the No. 1 defense in the league. So it was a lot different than it was when I went out there in the preseason against the twos and the threes and guys that weren't the starters."
Childress said he has not made a decision on who will start against the Lions.
"I think you consider everybody and just need to see where you are at and what you think you can accomplish here," he said.
Were it not for Bollinger's injury, Johnson would likely be headed to the bench. He still may be on his way there, but with the Vikings still mathematically in the playoff hunt in a mediocre NFC, Jackson knows what he would do.
"I think we're staying with Brad," Jackson said. "We still have a chance to make the playoffs, so we're still trying to do that. So it's obvious that Brad is still our quarterback so we can stay on that."
Well, not that obvious, Tarvaris.
Long revered as a heady player who rarely makes mistakes, Johnson has struggled for most of this season. After throwing 12 touchdowns and four interceptions to help the Vikings finish 7-2 last season, the 15-year veteran has thrown one TD and 10 picks in their last five losses.
And Childress' patience is wearing thin.
"We've got lots of things that we have to clean up on offense, primarily, No. 1, taking care of the football," Childress said. "I feel like that was a good defense yesterday. I feel like we moved it at times, but you've got to have regard for the football and you can't create short fields."
The Bears' only offensive touchdown of the game came after Johnson's third interception gave Chicago the ball deep in Minnesota territory.
The offensive ineptitude is threatening to fracture the locker room.
The defense put together another dominating performance against the Bears, and once again, it went for naught. After the game, free safety Darren Sharper voiced his frustration and typically vocal cornerback Antoine Winfield refused comment on Dec. 4.
"It's not a news flash that the offense needs to play better," center Matt Birk said. "But at the same time, this is a team game and it's all about winning, whether you win 2-0 or 51-50. That's how it is.
"I and a lot of guys on offense know how those guys on defense probably feel right now. For a long time, at least on this team, offense carried the day. It's not about offense, it's about winning games. It's about finding ways to win games no matter how you do it. And we haven't done it."