Sunday, November 28, 2004

And Hell Froze Over

The Vikings defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday by the score of 27 to 16. Though the final score was indicative of the quality of play put forth by each team, the final score was not settled until the Vikings made two defensive stands in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.

The first stand ended with just over two minutes remaining in the game. The Vikings were leading by four with Jacksonville facing a third and long. After the Vikings' defenders flushed Jaguars' QB Byron Leftwich from the pocket, Kenechi Udeze forced Leftwich to fumble and Kevin Williams scooped up the loose ball and ambled for a 76-yard touchdown. As pigs began flying throughout the Metrodome, one was overheard commenting that it was the Vikings' first fumble returned for a touchdown in an eternity.

That should have been that for the Jaguars. The Vikings were up 26-16 and Vikings' head coach Mike Tice was faced with a decision for which, as he assured us last week, he had the incontrovertible cheat sheet. The question for Tice was whether to kick the extra point or to go for two. Tice elected to kick the extra point. The kick was automatic for Andersen, but the decision was still dubious.

Nine times out of ten, NFL coaches make the wrong call in electing to attempt a two-point conversion. Conversely, rarely do coaches err in electing to kick the extra point rather than attempting a two-point conversion. But after taking a ten point lead with just over two minutes remaining on Sunday, Tice inexplicably--though predictably--confounded the odds.

After converting the extra point attempt, the Vikings led Jacksonville by 11 points. Had the Vikings attempted a two-point conversion and failed, they would have led by 10 points. Under either of these scenarios, the Jaguars would have trailed by a field goal, a touchdown, and a conversion (either one or two points). Even trailing by 11, as they did when they received the ball with about two minutes remaining, the Jaguars thus could have tied the game with a touchdown, two-point conversion, and a field goal.

If the Vikings had converted a two-point attempt after Williams' touchdown, however, they would have forced the Jaguars to score two touchdowns to win. And even if the two-point conversion failed, the Vikings would have had the comfort of knowing that Jaguars' coach Jack Del Rio would not attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown when trailing by four. The extra point would ensure that an on-side kick recovery and subsequent field goal would tie the game, whereas a missed two-point conversion attempt would force Jacksonville to score another touchdown to win.

Cynics will argue that if Tice had gone for two and made it, Jacksonville undoubtedly would have scorched the Vikings' defense to score the necessary touchdown and would have won the game in regulation. But the way that the Vikings' front four were playing against the underwhelming, overmatched, overhyped Byron Leftwich, there is every reason to believe that a two touchdown lead with two minutes to play (and with Del Rio having already blown one timeout on a questionable challenge) would have sufficed. But why leave anything to chance? Is chance not what ended last season?

As it was, a one touchdown lead was sufficient to ensure victory and Tice's decision became academic. Despite the re-emergence of the Denny Green-era prevent D on a long pass to Jimmy Smith in front of the siestaing Terrance Shaw, the Vikings' front four again put sufficient pressure on the awkward looking Leftwich to force consecutive bad passes and to seal the victory.

And the pigs were overheard saying that they will wait a few weeks to suggest a list a potential successors to head coach Mike Tice.

Up Next: Draft day misses.


Anonymous said...

I was calling for Mike Tice's firing earlier, but after seeing the Vikings beat the Lions and now the Jaguars, I've changed my mind.

First the negatives. Your point about the 2-pointer is not one that occurred to me before. Your analysis is correct. Tice screwed up. Additionally, Tice's official challenge on 2nd and inches goal to go was unstrategic to say the least. The Vikes still missed a lot of tackles. Daunte accounted for two turnovers. The defense was torched by the Jaguars' RB.

Now the positives. The Vikings beat a team with a winning record, the Jaguars. The Vikings' tackling, penalties, defensive turnovers, pressure on the QB, and so on were all improved

Forget what I said earlier. Keep Tice. He's got this young team on the right track.

At least one thing's for sure after this season. No one is going to question just how important a healthy Randy Moss is to the Vikings anymore.

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