Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Since week eight of the NFL season, the Vikings' coaching staff has resorted to a familiar old cliche. "If we had just made one more play--one more play--we would have won the game." The staff has carried this cliche forward, trotting it out after losses in six of their past nine games. Viking players have even gotten in on the act, mimicking proudly the coaches' favorite new line. Even Bud Grant, upon whom Vikings' head coach Mike Tice called to give a pre-game pep talk, suggested--as the story goes--that the Vikings simply make that one more play.

I would be remiss if I failed to note that, at least figuratively, the Vikings' coaches and players largely have been correct in their assessment of needing to make one more play to turn what was a loss into what would/could have been a victory. This undoubtedly applies to the loss at Indianapolis, the loss at Lambeau, the loss to Seattle, and the loss, at home, to Green Bay. Each of those losses involved late scoring plays by the opposition and each loss was by less than one touchdown--less than "one play."

But while it likely is true that the Vikings have been the victims of their inability to make "one more play," the cliche is both tiring and disingenuous. It is tiring because it is used after every loss and the losses continue to mount. It is disingenuous because it both states the obvious and oversimplifies the context.

Virtually every team that loses a game in the NFL--save for the lowly 49ers--can state that if only they had made one more play they would have emerged victorious in nearly every one of their losses. That's true because the winning margin of victory in the NFL is less than a touchdown and nearly every team can point to at least one touchdown per game as the "losing score."

But this also means that teams can stretch the point even more and still fall within the realm of theoretic correctness. If, for example, a team turns the ball over inside the red zone when trailing by a touchdown, and the opposing team marches for a TD, the losing coachcan contend that, had his team made just one more play--the play, presumably, that would have knotted the score, but for the turnover--his team would have won. This sounds good. It appeals to the fans' desperation. It soothes things over. But it doesn't really make much sense because it presumes an outcome that we cannot know.

But the statement becomes even more ridiculous when one factors in the fact that most NFL games have between 90 and 100 plays. Are the Vikings contending that, but for one play out of the 90 to 100 plays, they would have won the game? No. What the Vikings are contending is even more ludicrous, as they are claiming that their losses really came down to a failure to stop the opponent on just one more play.

But the Vikings' losses have been attributable than far more than the inability to make just one more play, unless we have the luxury of holding constant all other outcomes in the game. And the game against the Colts provides the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the point.

After the Indianapolis game, Tice claimed that the Vikings lost because they did not make one more play. Really? Which play was that? Was it the first TD? The second TD? The third TD? The fourth TD? Or was it the final dagger, the game-winning FG?

Presumably, Tice meant that, had the Vikings stopped the Colts on their game-winning drive, the Vikings would have won (Tice implies that the Vikings would have won, but, of course, that would have required the Vikings to make at least two more plays. So I will stick with Tice's intention, even if what he intended was also impossible).

But even on the game-winning drive, Tice's claim is improbable, if not impossible. To what play in that drive could Tice have been referring? Was it Peyton Manning's 15-yard run to the Minnesota 41? Was it the Lance Johnstone 15-yard roughing penalty on the same play? Was it the 6-yard completion to James on 3rd and 5 from the Minnesota 21--already well withing Vanderjagt's field-goal range. Or was it the failure to block the field goal attempt--a virtual non-occurrence on field goal attempts of less than forty yards?

The answer is that, in truth, it was none of the above. The Vikings lost to the Colts because they failed to make numerous plays. And their failure to make numerous plays was spread throughout the game. This is the same reason that they lost any of their other games. Whether being blown out by the Giants, beaten at the wire by the Colts and Packers, or losing by some other method, the Vikings have lost games this season because, despite numerous opportunities to make routine plays, the Vikings failed.

No one play sealed a loss for the Vikings in any one game this season. Instead, the losses have resulted from an amalgamation of missed plays. What was true against the Colts was true of the losses to Green Bay. The Vikings did not lose because they failed to make one more play, they failed, much more precisely, because they failed to make numerous plays. And that goes to as much to the performance of individual players as it does to coaching.

Up Next: Vikings' Defensive Personnel. Playmakers or Shot Takers?


Anonymous said...

Bloody brilliant VG! A nice, sane voice in the sea of desperation and anger of Vikes fans.

Angie said...

I really don't think it's necessary to pick on the 49ers.

Anonymous said...

The Vikings have a good running attack.

How about adopting the Rams' strategy used against the Eagles on MNF? Run, run, run.

Would that work against the Redskins?

Anonymous said...

The Vikings have a very highly paid and well-regarded QB/WR combo. Could they maybe live up to their overrated reputation and win a big game almost single-handedly....just once....please?

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