HOUSTON - OK. So now that we've got that over with ...
The Vikings mercifully finished their preseason Thursday night at Reliant Stadium, left to stagger into the regular season with a 28-24 loss to the Texans.
Fourth-string quarterback McLeod-Bethel Thompson couldn't produce a fourth-quarter rally. And, well, thankfully the preseason wheezed to its death.
The Vikings' latest stumble exemplified the preseason in all its sloppy splendor.
Nothing proved more painful to watch than the second quarter, a stretch that, for the Vikings, was filled with missed opportunities, missed tackles and, of course, missed calls.
Take the second-and-8 throw made by quarterback Sage Rosenfels with 5 minutes left before halftime. Receiver Devin Aromashodu was running free up the right sideline with no defender within 8 yards. But instead of connecting on a 49-yard touchdown pass, Rosenfels threw a bomb that landed 4 yards out of bounds.
Two plays later, after a Chris Kluwe punt, the defense made its own inexcusable mistake, surrendering an 80-yard John Beck to DeVier Posey touchdown pass.
Posey went 70 yards after the catch, with safety Eric Frampton, linebacker Larry Dean and cornerback Chris Carr all missing chances to bring him down.
And yes, as usual, we had another round of replacement ref bewilderment.
There were 14 penalties in all, eight in the second quarter. The most confusing came when Rosenfels was hit by Houston linebacker Delano Johnson and fumbled. The officials flagged Johnson for unnecessary roughness for hitting Rosenfels in the head. But somehow, after a long stretch of confusion, they only rewarded the Vikings by moving the ball to the original line of scrimmage, 8 yards in front of where Rosenfels was hit.
Asked about the mishap and the lengthy chat he had with officials to get an explanation, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier could only stare at the floor.
"We talked about it for a long time," Frazier said. "We did. There were a few things we talked about for a long time."
Yep, if you were craving regular-season football, with meaningful results and starters playing most of the game and real refs (hopefully soon), Thursday's game did nothing but heighten that desire. Even the Twin Cities television broadcast added to the chaos, losing audio for a good portion of the first quarter.
Not surprisingly, the Vikings opted not to play any of their starters. Houston also deactivated 30 players, leaving the stage cleared for backups and players on the bubble.
The Vikings' defensive depth was exposed some. Houston rushed for 169 yards. Justin Forsett led the stampede with 114 yards on 13 attempts, including touchdowns of 3 and 5 yards.
No, it wasn't all ugly. Both Rosenfels and Bethel-Thompson connected on deep touchdown passes.
Rosenfels delivered his to Aromashodu, a 58-yarder late in the first half. Bethel-Thompson connected with rookie Jarius Wright on a 59-yard bomb with him basically left uncovered.
"I really couldn't tell you what coverage they were in," Wright said. "I think the corner and safety got confused. It looked like a Cover-2 look, but the corner never tried to get his hands on me and the safety never moved outside. So I just ran straight down the field."
As the Vikings search to find reliable depth in their receiving corps, Aromashodu and Wright combined for 11 catches and 211 yards.
Now the Vikings have business to take care of, needing to cut 22 players and assemble their 53-man roster Friday. All of that must be done by 8 p.m.
Heading into Thursday, the third running back job was open. Matt Asiata continued his solid showing with seven carries and 43 yards.
But then Jordan Todman served a reminder that he should not be discarded so easily. Todman had 114 yards on 10 attempts, including a nifty 76-yard scoring run in which he made a decisive cut, fought through contact and showcased his speed along the sideline.
"I really only had one game to give it my all and show what I had," Todman said. "But I hope I showed what I can do and what I can bring to this team. I feel like I took advantage of all my carries."
It's seems difficult to believe now that the Vikings will opt to prioritize the veteran experience of Lex Hilliard (seven carries, 33 yards on Thursday) in their backfield debate.
Plenty of roster decisions remain. So too do the myriad questions regarding how much progress this team can truly make in 2012.
At the very least, the preseason is finally over.
NFL PRESEASON HOUSTON 28, VIKINGS 24
Season opener: Noon Sept. 9 vs. Jacksonville Mall of America Field TV: Ch. 4 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)