CHICAGO -- Before he decided to detonate a controversy bomb under his Minnesota Vikings, Brad Childress was just another coach with a beard and a closet God complex.
Now everybody knows Childress. He's the control freak in the puffy black coat and Elmer Fudd hat who created friction when it wasn't required and doubt before it actually existed. And because Childress couldn't keep his "stream of consciousness" (his words) to himself, the Vikings are now a purple puddle of chaos.
Since the Dec. 20 game at Carolina, when Childress clumsily told Brett Favre that he might bench him (even though Minnesota was leading by a point at the time), the Vikings' collapse has intensified. First came the 19-point loss to the Panthers, followed Monday night by a semi-stunning 36-30 overtime loss to the dreadful Chicago Bears.
If anyone deserves to be benched, it's Childress. He's the one who unnecessarily inserted a question mark into a team that used to have most of the answers.
Until the free-fall, the Vikings were in play for the NFC's precious No. 1 seed and the postseason home-field advantage and first-round bye that comes with it. Nobody would have wanted to play the Vikes in the Metrodome, where it's so loud that Metallica complains about the noise.
Instead, Childress' team could fall all the way to a wild-card game against -- and wouldn't this be something -- Favre's former employer, the very dangerous Green Bay Packers. That's one of the possible scenarios, depending on how the final week of the regular season shakes out.
In the meantime, Childress has only himself to blame for the Vikings' December meltdown. They're 0-2 since he thought about benching Favre and 1-3 since a Dec. 6 loss at Arizona. And if they can lose to the Bears, then what's to stop them from losing to the New York Giants?
"I know what the last four weeks are," Childress said.
So does Favre.
"I would love to be peaking right now," said Favre, who recovered from a 36-yard first half to finish with 321 yards and two touchdown passes. "And it's hard to say we're peaking right now.
"I know we're fortunate to be in the playoffs. I have no idea the scenario, but I know we have to play better than we did [against the Bears], and really the last few weeks, or we'll be home fairly quickly. I'm just being as honest as I can be."
If you could hook up Vikings players and management to an honesty machine, you wonder what they'd say about Childress these days. The Vikings are broken and Childress can't find the toolbox to fix them. Instead, he picked the wrong time (ahead, 7-6, against Carolina), the wrong player (Favre) and the wrong argument (Favre was getting hit) to discuss the possibility of a benching.
Against a Bears team cratered by injuries, Childress didn't have his team ready to play -- at least, not in the first half. The Vikings trailed 16-0 at halftime, scored 30 in the second half, fumbled away the ball in overtime (though the officials missed a facemask call that would have negated the turnover), and then gave up a 39-yard touchdown pass by Jay Cutler.
"I talked to those guys about it," Childress said of the failed comeback. "You can look up, you can get up. I just watched them get off the mat from a not very good first half and have some resolve and get back in and grind their way back into the football game ..."
I'm sorry -- I started to zone out when Childress began reaching the cliche limit, and I checked out when he said the Vikings gave "everything they've got." That's the kind of thing Bears coach Lovie Smith always says after losses.
Even weirder was what Childress said -- or didn't say -- when I asked him if he considered any lineup changes, including quarterback, at halftime. Favre had only those 36 passing yards. Adrian Peterson had just 28 rushing yards. The Vikings' defense had given up 225 total yards. I mean, if Childress could think about shaking things up in Carolina, why not in Chicago too?
"C'mon now, that's a little loaded question," he said. "I don't think you saw me talking to anybody. We [he and Favre] didn't have any discourse about that."
Hey, we were just curious.
"I'm going to let you stay curious on that," he said. "There is nothing he was doing ... there was no fault of Brett in terms of what was going on. Be a good story, though, if you wanted to go that way."
And yet, Childress didn't deny that he considered a change.
A Vikings PR official announced, "Last one for Coach." Nobody said a peep.
"You guys are way too easy," Childress told reporters. "There's got to be somebody that will be sawing me off tomorrow."
So someone asked about the quality of Favre's audibles -- a point of considerable interest, given recent reports of Childress' displeasure with Favre's play-calling changes.
"You know what, they were wonderful," said Childress, both playful and borderline sarcastic. "They were outstanding."
And later from Childress: "I didn't feel there was a lot of fight-back on [play calling]. ... He was pretty much in lockstep with what we were doing. No post[game] locker-room meetings that you're invited to this week. You know what I mean?"
Childress can't run or pass block. He can't stop Peterson from fumbling again. He can't cover Devin Aromashodu on the game-winning TD catch. But he can, and should, act like he knows how to reverse the Vikings' season-ending stagger. A nice start would have been to simply say, "No way was I going to pull Favre. He's my quarterback."
Favre said afterward that "Brad and I are fine." Favre didn't ask for any more freedom to run the offense and Childress didn't offer any. The game, not the player or coach, dictated the audibles.
Not so fine are the Vikings. They're guaranteed a playoff spot and yet, they're in a must-win situation against the Giants. They can't afford to be this team -- the recent 1-3 version of the Vikings -- entering the postseason.
"First, I didn't think we would be having this conversation about ... turning it around," Favre said. "But we are."
At the steering wheel is Childress. The question is: Does he still know how to drive?
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.