Vikings' 12-Man Gaffe Costly
In yet another in a string of extremely close and hard-fought NFC Championship games, the Vikings may have cost themselves a trip to the Super Bowl with an unacceptable mental error. With 19 seconds left in the game, the Vikings were looking at a 3rd-and-10 from the New Orleans 33. They had one timeout remaining, so the smart money was on them running the ball and hoping to gain four to five yards -- thus setting up an approximately 45-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
Instead, the Vikings came out of a timeout and appeared confused. Head coach Brad Childress could be seen screaming from the sidelines. Quarterback Brett Favre nearly attempted to call timeout (even though they aren't permitted to call timeouts back-to-back without running a play) amidst the chaos.
All of a sudden, flags flew and we knew why both were in panic mode: the Vikings had 12 men in the huddle. They were penalized five yards and everything changed.The Vikings now needed to pass the ball. A 55-yard field goal is far from a sure thing, even for reliable kicker Ryan Longwell. His longest field goal of the season was a 52-yarder and he hadn't made one of more than 45 yards since November 29 in Chicago. He hadn't hit a 55-yard field goal since October of 2007 (which was, coincidentally), a game-winning kick as time expired. Thus, it was pretty obvious the Vikings were going to go to the air.
Enough pressure forced Favre outside the pocket and he forced a pass against his body. It was intercepted by Tracy Porter of the Saints -- who had earlier missed a crucial tackle on Bernard Berrian's drive-extending first down and also committed pass interference in the end-zone before the Vikings' game-tying touchdown.
We don't know that Longwell would have definitely made the kick, had the Vikes not committed the gaffe of having too many players in the huddle. We do know they would have had a lot better chance of winning the game had it not happened, though.
So, who is at fault?
The offensive coordinator, wide receivers and running backs coaches should all have been paying attention to the personnel that needed to be on the field.
Whichever receiver or running back was on the field that shouldn't have been for the particular personnel package they called is definitely culpable in the situation.
What about Favre? The quarterback is the on-field leader of the offense and he knows where everyone is supposed to be on every play. In this instance, though, it's not likely Favre knew there were too many guys out there until he actually entered the huddle -- at which point it was too late for him to solve. It's probable Favre was discussing the plan with the coaching staff and hadn't even looked at the huddle during the timeout. That's not his job.
The blame will likely fall squarely on the shoulders of Childress. After all, he's the head coach. His team just had an entire minute during the timeout to get the correct personnel grouping in the field for one of the biggest plays in franchise history. He was talking to Favre and discussing the plan, but when you are the boss, you ultimately have to fall on the sword when things like this happen.
Games aren't decided on one play, but this one had a gigantic affect on the outcome of the NFC championship game. It's a shame a mental breakdown by the Vikings had more of a hand in deciding the outcome of the game than an actual, physical play -- but, such is life.