Committing to a soft prevent defense deep into the fourth quarter is similar to getting a letter from Publisher’s Clearing House stating you may have already won $100,000. Neither is likely to pan out.
A case in point was a recent game between the Vikings and the Lions, names that conjure up medieval mayhem, but on the day in question provided a 13-9 snoozer with 30 seconds left as Minnesota tried to sneak in one final score to snare the lead from Detroit.
A slick hand-off to an end-in-motion did the trick, leaving but 23 clock clicks in what had just become a 16-13 Viking lead. Cue the band. Alert the violet clad trumpet players. After having won five straight to open the season, the Vikings had dropped two straight, giving hope to the pursuing Packers and the lunging Lions, both clawing at their heels in the NFC Central.
It is that time of year that northerners head south, leaving their scarves and mittens behind but proudly carrying their ‘back home’ allegiances down to the Sunshine State. Such was the case with a couple from Minneapolis, Keith and Joan, clad in the purple and white of their beloved Vikings, sitting at an adjoining table to our local cadre of Sunday Soldiers cheering on other teams at our favorite watering hole with its 25 television sets.
There was, however, a sense of impending doom from the cautious couple, even when they went up so late in the game. “Oh, we’ve been down this road before,” said he, recounting the four Super Bowls lost over the forty-six year history of the Vikings. I encouraged them, stating with but 23 seconds left, there was no way Detroit could get into position for a tying field goal. But, with that unique Minnesota North Central dialect in their voices, they intoned, “Oh, just you wait. You’ll see!”
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford completes two of every three passes he throws and has been doing so since day one in the NFL, against four, five, six, seven, or even eight man rushes. For the next two downs, he would see only three tired men coming at him. He had a great need to get to the opponent’s forty-yard line for any chance of a tying field goal and overtime.
Stafford used six seconds on a pass to get out of bounds at his own 33. With but 17 seconds and no timeouts left, he found a downfield hole amongst eight, count them, eight defenders for 27 yards, afterwards sprinting like his jungle namesake chasing a gazelle in the high grass in racing to the Viking’s 40-yard line to spike the ball to stop the clock to make the kick to save the day.
A 58-yard field goal at the gun brought on overtime. Minnesota never touched the ball again.
A bouncing, pooched kick-off following the late Viking touchdown would have run at least three seconds off the clock with the requisite return, leaving no time for the last second field goal. It was poor judgement to kick the ball through the end zone, taking zero time off the clock in the process. If a quarterback can thread the needle for a 27 yard completion with the clock racing to zero, you must take your chances on a much less likely kickoff return beating you.
The parting words from the ever loyal Vikings couple?
“See, we told ya’ so!”