The Vikings missed a golden opportunity to win a road game over a playoff team on Monday night. Much of the blame for this missed opportunity, as was the case in last week's loss to the Giants, falls squarely on the offense. With several penalties and an almost unbelievable, save for the fact that it happened to the Vikings, fumble. But the critical mistakes in this game, the mistakes that turned the fortunes of the Vikings from the outset, were committed by the coaching staff.
The Vikings began the game in a manner reminiscent of their 41-0 loss to the NY Giants in the NFC Championship game. After winning the coin flip, the Vikings returned the opening kickoff to their own 34-yard line.
But the good opening field position soon became awful field position. On the first snap of the game, Matt Birk snapped the ball short of a Daunte Culpepper's hands as Daunte began moving back just slightly. The result was a fumble, but no ordinary fumble.
The Vikings had the first crack at the loose ball, but Daunte could not corral it. The ball moved back several yards where several Colt players collided attempting to scoop up the ball and run with it. The ball moved several more yards back where another Colt player botched a pick-up attempt. Finally, after two Viking players collided with several Colt players, the Vikings recovered the bounding ball at their own 10-yard line. There, the Vikings continued their opening drive staring down a 2nd and 34.
Vikings' fans know two things about such scenarios. First, if the opponent has their back to the wall after a botched play and is facing second and forever, they will probably pick up the first down. Second, if the Vikings are facing such a scenario they very likely will not pick up the first down and may even make matters worse. That's just how it seems to go for the Vikings these days.
And what happened? The Vikings failed to pick up the first down and Coach Tice made the situation worse. The daily double.
Tice made the Vikings' predicament worse, and sealed his fate on the Vikings' atrocious 2-minute drive at the end of the first half, when, on 3rd and 23, Tice called a timeout with 1 second remaining on the play clock.
Apparently, though we do not yet have confirmation, Tice believed that the Vikings were not going to get the play off in time. Although the Vikings snapped the ball with 1 second on the play clock, Tice could not have known that this would happen when he signaled for a time out. And Tice might rely on just such a justification for explaining the use of the Vikings' first time out.
But no matter the explanation, it cannot be satisfactory. Facing 3rd and 23, the Vikings clearly were resigned to moving the ball out of their end for a better punting position (which must have helped Bennett given the 28-yard beauty he subsequently unleashed). If the Vikings had been called for delay of game they would have faced a 3rd and 28 from their own 6. This would have been tough, but, given that the Vikings had already conceded any attempt to gain a first down on the drive it would have been preferable to facing a 3rd and 23 from their 11 with one less time out. The point is that Tice unnecessarily burned a time out, a time out that he certainly could have used at the end of the first half.
The Vikings burned a second timeout just a few minutes later when they had too many men on the field. It was the third time in the drive that the Vikings had trouble getting extra players off of the field, but the first time that the Vikings were caught. Using a time out to avoid a five yard penalty might be justifiable in this situation, but the Vikings had already burned one time out and were now left with only one time out to use at the end of the half.
But the second time out raises a more significant issue than whether the time out was necessary, and the issue is one of preparation. And that falls on the coaching staff.
The Vikings had an extra day to prepare for the Colts this week. The Vikings surely knew that the Colts run a no-huddle offense that limits the amount of substitutions the opposing defense can make, as the Colts have run the offense for years. Yet, despite the additional preparation time and knowledge of the Colts' system, the Vikings consistently appeared befuddled about who was to be on the field and whether a player should be coming or going. This was particularly true in the Colts' first three series. And that's on the coaching staff.
Had Tice had his team properly prepared--not just prepared--the Vikings' defense would have been adjusted to the no-huddle offense before the game even began. Instead, the defense took at least one full quarter to make this adjustment. That delay caused the Vikings to burn a second time out and left them with just one time out to use on their half-ending two-minute drive.
The Vikings almost overcame Tice's time out gaffes on the last drive of the half. Almost. And the Vikings almost reached the Colts' endzone on the final drive of the half with only one time out. But they did not.
They did not because the offense took too long to get to the line of scrimmage to run plays. They did not because the offense took too long to get to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball. They did not because, even with one time out, Tice inexplicably waivered on whether to use his final time out of the half with 11 seconds remaining.
While we will not know until tomorrow what was going through Tice's head as he refused to call a time out until too much time had run off the game clock to assure the Vikings a shot at the endzone with a play in hand should that not succeed, the only explanation is that Tice did not want to leave time on the clock. And, of course, that explanation is absurd.
The Vikings knew that they would need to use their time out on the drive. When they used it did not particularly matter, as long as they used it to save time. Instead, Tice let precious seconds run off the clock as he held his hands over his hand and restrained himself, his assistants, the players, and viewers at home from signaling a time out early enough to allow the Vikings at least one shot at the end zone on first and goal.
The result was a field goal. What was ceded was an opportunity for four more points. And while we cannot determine what would have happened had the Vikings scored a touchdown on that drive, it is difficult to look at that two-minute sequence, set-up by two burned time outs earlier in the game, without lamenting a significant opportunity lost in what was a close finish. And it is difficult to view that two-minute sequence without wondering why it is that when Mike Tice's teams face difficult challenges they tend to melt like they did in the first half. Yes, the Vikings made a game of it in the second half, after deciding to attack the worst defense in the NFL, but coaching mistakes before the game and in the first half of the game made a comeback necessary and may have made a tight loss out of less tight victory. We will never know, but it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to find out.
Up Next: More rewind.